21 March 2014

Calixthe Beyala: L'Homme qui m'offrait le ciel (2007)

The back cover of Calixthe Beyala's novel L'Homme qui m'offrait le ciel ('The Man Who Promised Me the Earth') reads:

'Elle est noire, africaine, célibataire et mère d'une ado rebelle. Il est blanc, occidental, marié sans enfants. Entre eux, un amour fou. Une rencontre improbable, elle qui se bat pour les déshérités, lui qui vit dans un monde de célébrités. Et pourtant ils vont s'aimer... L'homme qui m'offrait le ciel est le récit d'une passion absolue. Mais la passion peut-elle lutter contre les pressions sociales, le confort des habitudes et la peur de l'innconnu ?'

My translation:

'She is black, African, unmarried and the mother of a rebellious adolescent daughter. He is white, western, married without children. Between them, a crazy love. An unlikely encounter, she fighting for the disinherited, he living in the world of the famous. And yet they will love each other... 'The Man who Promised Me the Earth' is the story of an all-embracing passion. But can this passion conquer social pressures, the comfort of habit and the fear of the unknown?'

Calixthe Bayala was born in Cameroon in 1961, which she left for France when she was seventeen. She is noted for her passionate support for the amelioration of the lives of African peoples.

For two years, between 2004 and 2006, she had a relationship with the television presenter Michel Drucker. This book, in which the first person narrator is the writer Andela and her lover François, is a fictionalisation of that relationship, and the book caused quite a stir in France on its publication in 2007.

L'Homme qui m'offrait le ciel describes the relationship between the Andela and François in some detail, from the increasingly frequent dinners, through the first physical embrace in a car which was interrupted by the police, to the mad love scenes during which Andela – twenty years the junior of the sixty-year-old François – teaches him the meaning of love: François is married, although he has slept separately from his wife without sexual contact for many years. But his profession depends on his wife.

Andela and François become increasingly attached to each other and he makes no attempt to hide the relationship from the public and in private he speaks of his dreams of moving to Africa with her, setting up a school and getting involved in humanitarian work. Andela never dreams that he will leave her, although the abrupt break comes via a telephone call from a friend of François's, who can't even bring himself to tell her in person.

The title may sound like this is a bitter novel, but it isn't, although it could easily have been so: towards the end, François asks Andela what the press and the country would say if they learned that he had left his wife for a black woman.

This is writing as therapy, and it is spellbinding.


Vagabonde said...

I frankly do not know how I found your blog – but I am pleased I did. You include a treasure of French books. I live near Atlanta, Georgia, and it is difficult to find French books here. Then when I go back to visit my family in Paris I don’t know which books to buy. I know of Larsène Lupin (qui ne le connait pas s’il est français?) but have not read the books you reviewed – now I’ll get them. I’ll continue reading your blog, going back to all your posts, which are all delightful and so informative. I like les Livres de Poche (they are inexpensive and light in my suitcasez) and will look for l’Homme qui m’offrait le ciel.

Dr Tony Shaw said...

Hi. Many thanks for your comments. Every time the name Arsène Lupin comes up it reminds me that I really must get round to visiting his house museum in Étretat.

I've just been looking at your blog too, and I found it very interesting: your quilt post reminded me of when I went to the Quilt Museum in Paducah, Kentucky.

Love the cat in your avatar by the way!