Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s The Most Secret Memory of Men Borrows from the Life of Malian Novelist Yambo Ouologuem

Published in French as La plus secrete memoire des homes, it won the Prix Goncourt and was hailed as “a hymn to literature.”
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Mohamed Mbougar Sarr book - La plus secrete memoire des hommes - credit to Librairie Aux 4 VentsMohamed Mbougar Sarr book - La plus secrete memoire des hommes - credit to Librairie Aux 4 Vents

Credit: Librairie Aux 4 Vents.

Mohamed Mbougar Sarr’s novel The Most Secret Memory of Men is a story of two writers—a young contemporary author and a fictional African one who disappears after the publication of his book, The Labyrinth of the Inhuman, in 1938. Before his sudden disappearance, TC Elimane was a literary sensation in France, winning a prestigious prize, just like Yambo Ouologuem, the Malian writer he’s based on. (Ouologuem’s breakout 1968 novel Le devoir de violence, published in English as Bound to Violence, was followed by accusations of plagiarism. He subsequently became reclusive.)

Diégane Latyr is overwhelmed by his discovery of Elimane’s book and intrigued by the author’s mysterious disappearance after its publication. Diégane is drawn to the story, seeking to unravel what lies behind it.

Sarr’s novel is largely set in Senegal and France (Paris), but also extends to the Netherlands (Amsterdam) and Argentina (Buenos Aires), investigating the tumultuous and complex relationship between Africa and Europe.

It was published in French by Phillipe Rey, with the title La plus secrete memoire des homes. Here is a synopsis:

In 2018, Diégane Latyr Faye, a young Senegalese writer, discovered in Paris a legendary book, published in 1938: The labyrinth of the Inhuman. We have lost track of the author, described in his time as a ‘Negro Rimbaud,’ since the scandal triggered by the publication of his text.

Diégane then sets out, fascinated, on the trail of the mysterious T.C. Elimane, where he faces the great tragedies of colonialism or the Shoah. From Senegal to France via Argentina, what truly awaits him in the center of this labyrinth?

Without ever losing the thread of this quest which monopolizes him, Diégane, in Paris, frequents a group of young African authors: all observe each other, discuss, drink, make love a lot, and wonder about the need for it. He will especially focus on two women: the sulphurous Siga, holder of secrets, and the fleeting photojournalist Aida.

Of perpetual inventiveness, The Most Secret Memory of Men is a dizzying novel, dominated by the demand for a choice between writing and life, or even by the desire to go beyond the question of face-to-face between Africa and the West. It is above all a love song for literature and its timeless power.

Portrait of Mohamed Mbougar Sarr 25/10/2021 ©Patrice NORMAND/Leextra
Mohamed Mbougar Sarr © Patrice NORMAND/Leextra.

Mbougar Sarr was born in 1990, in Dakar, Senegal. His previous novels are Terre ceinte (2015), translated into English as Brotherhood; Silence du chœur (2017); and De purs hommes (2018).

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The Most Secret Memory of Men was awarded the Prix Goncourt, the most prestigious French literary award. He’s the first sub-Saharan African to be awarded and, at 31 years old, the youngest winner since 1976.

The French novelist Paule Constant, a member of the ten-person jury who awarded Sarr the Goncourt, described The Most Secret Memory of Men as “a hymn to literature.”

Emmanuel Esomnofu
Emmanuel Esomnofu is a staff writer at Open Country Mag. He is a culture journalist and has written extensively on Nigerian music and on several moving parts of popular culture. His writing appears online in Native Mag, Okay Africa, Kalahari Review, Praxis Magazine, and elsewhere. He was published in print in The Muse, the oldest student journal in West Africa. In December 2020, he worked on "Fuji: A Opera" as a copywriter, creating informative and exciting stories from Fuji's rich history.

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