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book cover of felwine Sarr's novel in french

Les lieux qu’habitent mes rêves

The Senegalese economist Felwine Sarr rose to international prominence a few years ago. In March 2018, together with Benedicte Savoy, he was commissioned by French President Emmanuel Macron to do preparatory work for the return of French looted art to Africa.  His manifesto Afrotopia (2016) was an addition to the series of African visionary terms like Afropolitanism or Afrofuturism, in which Sarr showed why African utopias are necessary. Now he has presented his first novel, Les lieux qu’habitent mes rêves (The Places Where My Dreams Reside), not yet translated into English.

The novel is narrated by the Senegalese twins Fodé and Bouhel and by Bouhel’s Polish girlfriend Ulga. The change of narrative perspectives is a little unclear at the beginning, so I had to re-read the beginning of the novel at the end to better understand the whole. In the end, it is a thoroughly spiritual book, but one that introduces different forms of spirituality. Fodé lives in rural Senegal, works as a carpenter and seeks out training by an elder – one of the last keepers of knowledge and kumax (master of circumcision) – so that he can later fill this role himself in his region. Bouhel, on the other hand, studies semiology in France and deals intensively with philosophical questions of being and living. His search for answers repeatedly leads him to a monastery, where he has long conversations about Christianity and faith with one of the monks. Ulgas’s narrative voice serves to provide an external view of Bouhel and leave his introspection for a short time. In addition, Ulga and Bouhel’s relationship allows for a plot twist and a certain tension that the novel would otherwise have lacked.

At 190 pages, The Places Where My Dreams Reside is a short novel. Sarr’s style is often descriptive and I sometimes wished I had been shown more in scenes than told. What I appreciated very much while reading was the kindness of the characters, the respect they have for each other despite choosing such different ways of life.

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