France: Fatou Diome’s Immigrant Life in 'The Belly of the Atlantic'

©Michel Nicolas : Fatou Diome
The current Mediterranean migrant crisis was far away when Sengelase Fatou Diome wrote her debut novel The Belly of the Atlantic (French: Le Ventre de l'Atlantique) in 2001, a story about migration, succes and failure. Her novel became a bestseller in France.
Fatou Diome (born 1968 in Niodior) is a Senegalese writer,  her work explores immigrant life in France, and the relationship between France and Africa. Fatou Diome currently lives in Strasbourg, France. In 1990 she married a Frenchman and moved to France. Rejected by her traditional Serer family and by his family, she divorced two years later. In 1994 Diome moved to Strasbourg to study at the University of Strasbourg. She is currently working on her Ph.D. in French language and literature

The book

Her first novel was partly autobiographical and is about Salie, a Senegalese immigrant living in Strasbourg, and her younger brother Madicke, who stayed behind in Senegal. After years of struggle Salie has finally arrived and settled in France. Her younger brother dreams of following her to France and to become a successful football player. The Belly of the Atlantic was translated into English, German and Spanish. Her second novel, Kétala, was published in 2006 in France. In her work Fatou Diome explores France and Senegal, and the relationship between the two countries.

The third-world native must leave home if he is not only to succeed but also triumph. If he does so, he can never be at home again. Salie, the Senegalese native, who narrates The Belly of the Atlantic, says on a visit to Niodior, the Senegalese island where she was born, that, "I go home as a tourist in my own country, for I have become the other for the people I continue to call my family." When she checks into a hotel on the mainland, the clerk thinks she is a prostitute and asks when her client will arrive to pay for the room. No Senegalese woman can afford a room of her own.

To leave in the first place is to succeed and it denies any possibility of failure. "Leaving means having the courage necessary to go and give birth to one's self," Salie notes.

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Her style is influenced by the traditional oral literature of Africa. Her language is authentic and vivid and traces a portrait of the difficulties of integrating in France as an immigrant, mixed with nostalgia and memories of a childhood in Senegal.

See Fatou Diome talking with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal on Arte TV