Lost in Translation

So, a literary storm has been brewing recently with Cameroonian novelist Leonora Miano outrightly lashing out at her publishers, the University of Nebraska Press, against the Foreword included in the American version of her novel “L’interieur de la nuit”.  She sent in her grievances to the Complete Review and we have her note verbatim here for our readers!

Dear the Complete Review,

Thank you for giving me some space to express myself, and to say why the foreword added to my novel should be removed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, we’re used to be despised by the rest of the world and to be treated as mere animals. I knew, when L’intérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night) was published, that some would use the novel in order to reinforce their views on Africa and its peoples. Really, I didn’t care and still don’t care about that. What I’m interested in, is the African point of view on the topics I work on. I think we’ve spent too much time hoping for understanding and recognition from people other than ourselves. It’s time we focus on our problems and deal with them, no matter how painful it is. I’m confident in our ability to do so. I’m confident in our desire to no more take lessons in humanity from people who created and used the atomic bomb, and who still have death penalty in their country. Things would be so cool if people could just clean their front door …
When University of Nebraska Press bought the rights of the book, I was happy because it’s important for me to be translated into English, and to make my work available for the many Africans (and people of African descent as well) who actually speak English. I started to ask myself questions when I saw which title had been chosen for the American translation of L’intérieur de la nuit. Dark Heart of the Night has nothing to do with the original title. It resembles Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and voluntarily sends wrong messages. But all right. The contract had been signed, and UN Press could use a title betraying my work without me having a say in this. They could even create that ugly cover if they thought it would help them sell the book. I know nothing about the American taste as far as covers are concerned.
But now, UN Press also felt entitled to add a foreword. Why not, if the aim was to help the readers know the writer and understand the novel? The problem is that the foreword is full of misleading information. Let’s say it frankly, it’s full of lies:

1/ Cameroon does not have the worse human rights record in Africa. We have a lot of issues to face, but our country is not more violent than the USA where people are killed on a daily basis for all kinds of reasons. I don’t understand why the author of that foreword, who never bothered to contact me, made up stories like that. She is insulting a country and its people. Cameroonians will certainly not allow it.

2/ Cameroon is not the setting of the novel which was, as I’ve said it many times, inspired by a documentary that I saw on children at war. We don’t have those in Cameroon nowadays, and if we ever had, I never heard about it.

3/ I discovered the so called “Hashish Massacre” in the foreword. I had never heard of that, even if I knew about the armed conflicts we had in the country during the late fifties, when our people were fighting for their independence.

4/ I did not leave Cameroon to France to flee from a violent place. I live in France because I’m both selfish and down to earth. France is still the place where you need to be when you’re an African French speaking writer. It’s what allows you to be published and correctly distributed. My fellow Cameroonians don’t know the many talented writers who live in the country and whose books are published there. They know me. And L’intérieur de la nuit was awarded the Prize of Cameroonian Excellency in 2007.

5/ My novel is not a criticism of Negritude or Panafricanism. I’m deeply attached to Negritude whose authors have nurtured and freed my mind. If it was not for what they did, I would not be such a bold and fierce voice. They made me. Isn’t it a pity to see that the author of the foreword cannot even write Aimé C&eacutesaire’s name properly?
I’m a strong advocate of Panafricanism, which I view as the only way to solve some of our problems. L’intérieur de la nuit deals with fascistic views of the African identity, and this has nothing to do with Negritude or Panafricanism.

6/ I’ve not just written another novel. Three more have actually been published, in addition with one collection of short stories and a collection of creative non fiction. The latter, entitled Soulfood Equatoriale, is my only book really talking about Cameroon. And you know what? Nobody dies in the book. If the foreword was to be informative, it would have said all this. It would also have said that L’intérieur de la nuit is part of a trilogy. Even if those novels were written so they could be read separately, they form an ensemble.

7/ There is only one child killed in L’intérieur de la nuit, and that child is an orphan (it doesn’t make it good to kill him, but we’re talking about what is in the novel). I don’t understand why the author of the foreword talks about the women whose children are slaughtered. Can the lady actually read? Has she read? I think she must have been given an oral summary of the novel, plus two or three sentences to place here and there. This is not serious.

Complete Review, I could also say a few things on the way you read and understood the book. I won’t. I’m glad you read it and said something about it.

We’ve asked UN Press to withdraw the foreword. If they cannot do it because the books are already out, they’ll have to send them with a letter explaining everything I’ve just told you.


Léonora Miano

What do you guys think?  Should Miano have handled her disagreement in another manner or should the publisher have included her more in the process of translating her work?  How about the angle of the west seeing Africa as the “DARK HEART”?

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