Sembene Ousmane

(Born  January 1, 1923)

Ousmane Sembene   Ousmane Sembene (January 1, 1923 or January 8, 1923 – June 9, 2007), who was born into a Senegalese fishing family in 1923. Essentially self-educated, he became a fisherman just like his father: 'I have earned my living since I was 15,' Sembene says. He moved to Dakar until the outbreak of World War Two, when he was drafted into the French army and saw action in Italy and Germany. Returning to Senegal for a short time, Sembene realized that in order to further his literary ambitions he would have to move to France. He went to Marseilles where he worked as a docker, joined the French Communist Party, and became a union organizer. He also began writing. His output has been prodigious. Le Docker noir appeared in 1956, a semi-autobiographical novel written gods bits of wood doubledayin Marseilles; followed a year later by Oh Pays, mon beau peuple! about the problems of re-adaptation encountered by an African returning home with a French wife and new ideas. Three years later, Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu was published. In 1962 Ousmane wrote Voltaique, a volume of short stories which included the story La Noire de ... which he later turned into a prize-winning film. A fourth novel, L' Harmattan, was released in 1964, after which Ousmane had the opportunity to study at the Moscow film school. Two more short novels - Véhi Ciosane ou Blanche Genese (White Genesis), and Le Mandat (The Money-Order) - followed, the latter becoming a film that won a prize at the Venice film festival and established Ousmane's reputation as a director. In 1973 another novel, Xala, was published, going on to become one of a series of successful films. Ousmane's latest novel appeared in 1981 - the massive two-volumed work Le Dernier de l'empire. Heinemann has published several of Ousmane's novels in translation: Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu as God's Bits of Wood, Le Mandat suivi de Véhi Ciosane as The Money-Order with White Genesis, and Xala. Le Docker noir appeared in 1987, as Black Docker.


 Ousmane Sembene's most famous novel, GOD'S BITS OF WOOD, tells the story of workers who go on strike in 1947-48 on the Dakar-Niger railway.  It is a vivid and moving novel, evincing all of the colour, passion and tragedy of those decisive years in the history of West Africa. Because the author is a perceptive documentarist and social critic as well as a fine writer, GOD'S BITS OF WOOD does more than recount a fictional version of the Senegalese workers who struggled for unionization in the late 1940's. It also accurately describes the French West African institutional setting of that period and vividly conveys glimpses of native culture as it existed beneath the yoke of colonization. Traditional African values are dramatically portrayed as they conflict with the need for change and for acceptance of alien ideas in order to effect independence from oppression. The characters, however, are not mere vehicles for these historical and cultural themes, but human beings whose enormous tasks serve to underscore their strengths and frailties. The agonies they experience at having to place priorities on values, goals and personal relationships perhaps parallel those of any people who hold freedom necessary for life. 


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0435908960 ‘My client’s guilt seems proven simply through the colour of his skin. He is the beast capable of anything, the savage who drinks the blood of his victims.’ Diaw Falla, the black docker, is highly regarded in his community - a little Africa in the south of France. His toil in the docks, a perpetual and unequal rivalry of bone against steel, is directed to one end, to finance his true obsession, writing. He is driven on by the hope he has invested in his masterpiece; the salvation which will raise him above his daily hardships and lead to fame and happiness. But he is a victim of a society in which he is constantly on trial, and in which all trust is misplaced. In this, his first novel, Sembene Ousmane, the leading French African writer and film maker, draws on his own experiences and the problems of racism, prejudice and injustice to recreate vividly the uneasy atmosphere of the Marseilles docklands, and France, in the 1950s






0435906712 From the author of such acclaimed novels as GOD’S BITS OF WOOD and BLACK DOCKER, these two novellas deal with harsh realities. In Niiwam, an agonised father carries the corpse of his son on a bus from one side of Dakar to the other— there is a meeting of the living and the dead, the contemporary and the traditional. And in Taaw, a poverty-stricken family rise up against a tyrannical father. ‘(In Niiwam and Taaw) Ousmane, a praised filmmaker, succeeds in turning his prose into something most visual. Each new event is written as another frame might be filmed, the author’s eye like a camera — focusing in on different characters- with special intensity.’ Pretoria News ‘ . . . the novellas, while dealing with sombre, almost brutal themes, have a wealth of character, detail and humour which underlie serious matters.’ - The New African.








0882080679A biting satire about the downfall of a businessman-polygamist who assumes the role of the colonializer in French-speaking Africa. XALA is the story of a El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, a rich businessman struck by what he believes to be a curse of impotence (‘xala’ in Wolof) on the night of his wedding to his beautiful, young third wife. El Hadji grows obsessed with removing the curse through visits to marabouts, but only after losing most of his money and reputation does he discover the source to be the beggar who lives outside his offices, whom he wronged in acquiring his fortune.










aws last of the empire In Sembene Ousmane's THE LAST OF THE EMPIRE, Senegal’s President, Leon Mignane, has mysteriously vanished. His Cabinet splits into rival factions and popular unrest grows - until the Army steps in. The elderly Minister of Justice comes to see himself as the survivor of an era of corruption and compromise that the young now rightly reject as ‘the last of the Empire.’












0879530154This collection of finely crafted short stories focuses on a theme of universal significance: the struggle for the liberation of the human spirit against both physical and psychological oppression. In the title story, ‘Tribal Scars,’ Ousmane poses the intriguing question of how and why Black Africans began the custom of scarring their faces and bodies. Through a creative leap into the past, Ousmane suggests that ritual scarring began as an act of defiance against Western slavers and over time became a symbol of African strength and pride. The story stands as one of the most powerful commentaries in literature on both the inhumanities of slavery and man's ingenuity for endurance and survival against overwhelming odds. ‘Tribal Scars’ will haunt the conscience of every reader, Other stories in the collection show how even during the post-independence era in Africa, Africans remain culturally shackled by some of the same chains that bound their ancestors. In his charming ‘Love in Sandy Lane’ he shows himself to be a relentless critic of his fellow Africans who sacrifice authentic love relationships for the sham glory of imitating the former European ruling class. 0435901427‘The Promised Land,’ a story which Ousmane made into a prize-winning film entitled ‘Black Child,’ paints a tragic picture of a young African girl's search for a better life in France only to find herself subjected to a form of modern slavery. Ousmane's message is clear and relevant: slavery in the past is not so different from slavery today; the first scarred the physical being, the second the soul. Many of the stories alto raise the question of the rights of women in African society. In ‘The Bital's Fourth Wife,’ Ousmane satirizes Musttm attitudes toward divorce, and in ‘Her Three Days,’ he harshly attacks polygamy by painting a portrait of a woman who is no longer favored by her husband. ‘Letters from France’ depicts the tragedy of a young girl who is forced by her father to marry a very old man. Taken together, these stories represent a call for women to reject the oppression of tradition and assert their rights. ‘Ousmane merits wide readership as a writer of deep humanity.’—Library Journal 'The stories in this collection clearly illustrate Ousmane's versatility and ability to shape many of the raw experiences of his life into artistic realities. He has given us the chance to embrace a wide range of African realities.’ —Charles Larson, from the Introduction. Sembene Ousmane is a popular West African novelist, playwright, and prizewinning film producer. He is the author of numerous books.





0435908944 Ousmane's theme in both of these novellas is the state of modern Africa. Dieng's experience of bureaucratic incompetence and deceit in The Money Order leads him eventually to a public act of despair, while in White Genesis Ousmane captures the decline of a way of life through a tragic tale of incest. His vision is not, however, cynical or negative. The special excitement of his work lies in his ability, even in describing the destruction of a village or the expulsion of a lone mother with child, to see an ever-present, creative opportunity for regeneration. Sembene Ousmane is one of the leading French African writers. Born in Senegal, he worked variously as a fisherman, plumber and mason, and began to write while employed as a docker in Marseilles. His work, which includes novels, short stories and films, is characterized by a special closeness to the lives of ordinary people. He is recognized internationally and this collection won a prize at the Dakar International Festival. The Money Order went on, as a film, to win a prize at the Venice Film Festival. 'On the basis of these two first rate novelettes, Sembene Ousmane must surely rank as one of Africa's finest writers.' Eustace Palmer





A biography of Sembene Ousmane -  


9780253221513 Gadjigo, Samba. Ousmane Sembene: the Making of a Militant Artist. Bloomington. 2010. Indiana University Press. 9780253221513. Translated by Moustapha Diop. Foreword by Danny Glover. 189 pages. paperback. Cover photos: front, courtesy of Thomas Jacob and back (top), courtesy of Ousmane Sembene: back (bottom).


FROM THE PUBLISHER -  Samba Gadjigo presents a unique personal portrait and intellectual history of novelist and filmmaker Ousmane Sembène. Though Sembène has persistently deflected Gadjigo Sambaattention away from his personality, his life, and his past, Gadjigo has had unprecedented access to the artist and his family. This book is the first comprehensive biography of Sembène and contributes a critical appraisal of his life and art in the context of the political and social influences on his work.Beginning with Sembènes life in Casamance, Senegal, and ending with his militant career as a dockworker in Marseilles, Gadjigo places Sembéne into the context of African colonial and postcolonial culture and charts his achievements in film and literature. This landmark book reveals the inner workings of one of Africa’s most distinguished and controversial figures.


Samba Gadjigo is Professor of French at Mount Holyoke College. 









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