The Most Secret Memory of Men by Mohamed MBougar Sarr
“Je vais te donner un conseil : n’essaie jamais de dire de quoi parle un grand livre. Ou, si tu le fais, voici la seule réponse possible : rien. Un grand livre ne parle jamais que de rien, et pourtant, tout y est.”
[“Let me give you some advice: don’t ever try to say what a great work of literature is about. Or if you do, here’s the only possible answer: nothing. A great work of literature is only ever about nothing, and still it contains everything.”]
Mohamed MBougar Sarr has learned Flaubert’s lesson. While working on Sentimental Education, now commonly designated as the first modern novel, the master claimed that his ambition was to write “a great book about nothing.” And by nothing, one might hear nothing other than itself, with literature as its sole horizon. The Most Secret Memory of Men perfectly fits this description. Its story will sound familiar to lovers of canonical texts and novels of initiation. Diégane Latyr Faye, a young Senegalese writer, fascinated by an infamous novel, Le Labyrinthe de l’inhumanité, sets up to unveil what happened to its author, T.C. Elimane, a fellow Senegalese writer in exile in France. Elimane disappeared from the public eye after his only novel took the Parisian literary milieu by storm, before being vilified and accused of plagiarism. The quest for Elimane takes Diégane Latyr Faye on a journey through Africa, Europe and South America, and makes him cross paths with a multitude of narrators whose narratives send him in a labyrinth of his own.
In splendid prose, and under the cover of highly gripping plot, Mbougar Sarr invites us to reflect on the very nature of plagiarism. He, for once, hasn’t forgotten that in medieval time, the act of copying was held in high regards and considered as authentic writing. Nowadays plagiarism is now exclusively met with outrage, but what about influence? what about paying a tribute to? and ultimately to whom belongs a text, to its writer or to its readers?
Mbougar Sarr’s talent is mindblowing and enlightens each and every page of this astonishing, multifaceted novel who claims J.L. Borges, Yambo Ouologuem and Roberto Bolano as his sources of inspiration. If the expression “writer of the world” means anything, then Mbougar Sarr is — unarguably– one of its most talented and fierce figures.
La plus secrète mémoire des hommes by Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, translated by Lara Vergnaud, Other Press