‘African Titanics’ and a New Literature of Immigration

At this year’s Khartoum Book Fair, which ran at the middle of the month, Nassir al-Sayeid al-Nour launched his new book, a critical analysis of Eritrean novelist Abubakr Kahal’s African Titanics: 

Kahal’s novel, which was published in 2008 and translated to English by Charis Bredon (2014), is a multi-genre look at the long, treacherous, repetitive, and uncertain journeys north from sub-Saharan countries to alleged “safe havens.”

Kahal lives in Denmark now, after many years in Libya and several months in a Tunisian refugee camp during Libya’s recent uprising. But, while this book might borrow from the author’s own experience, it is not an autobiographical narrative. It is, instead, a carefully crafted layering of not just contemporary realist stories but myth and folk history.

Ahead of his book’s launch, Al-Nour, a Sudanese critic and translator, answered a few questions about his book, Kahal’s novel, and this year’s book fair in Khartoum.

What do you find unique & stirring about African Titanics? What makes it stand out from other contemporary fiction?

Nassir al-Sayeid al-Nour: African Titanicsis a multifaceted story that tells not only a story about the illegal migration of Africans from their miserable homelands, but is rather, as I wrote, a new sort of narrative that departs from conventional storytelling contexts. It establishes what can be called a Literature of Immigration, as well as challenging the phenomenon of global cultural transformation via immigration across international borders. Contemporary fiction is often confined within its inherited techniques and scope, but here we confront an untested narrative world and characters whose lives have never been narrated.

What made you decide to write this book?

NSN: As a writer and critic with an interest in multicultural studies, I found it essential to study this novel, via a critical analysis, as an attempt to draw attention to one of a few such novelistic works being heard and discussed in different academic platforms in the West and elsewhere. Mostly it conveys a humanistic message within a highly artistic framework.

Sometimes, there are compelling and challenging works one simply can’t avoid—it seems not an option.

What sort of context do you put African Titanics in?

NSN: Basically, African Titanics tells about unspoken aspects of human experience in the contemporary world. Many other critics believe that it is a fictional work blended with fantasy and experimentalism; this might apply to many other art productions.

The novel is replete with relatable human events across different nations, identities, and spaces. Moreover, it examines the motives of immigrants, and it explores their worldviews and conflicting beliefs amidst danger, fear, hunger and thirst. In other words, the novel can’t solely be considered as just a protest or political statement against a prejudiced world.

How does African Titanics stand out from — or relate to– the other written works by Abubakr Kahal?

NSN:This is Eritrean poet and writer Abubakr Kahal’s first novel. It originated in his both long literary experience and his own experience with immigration. He has lived outside of his homeland for decades. Such experience empowered him with a highly sensitive vision in understanding human alienation. By employing literary tools in this work, he managed to cover a huge movement that has occurred and is occurring, and is often thought of as fait accompli.

What other noteworthy books are part of this wave of “Literature of Immigration” you talk about? Are there ones you think would be interesting to translate into other languages?

NSN: It is a growing wave. This stream of “Literature of Immigration” can be traced back to the mid-twentieth century, in particular in African countries where then the emerging writers of its post-colonial eras attempted to study cultural differences. Season of Migration to the North by acclaimed Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih has been a cornerstone in this regard.

 Are there other things you’re looking forward to at the Khartoum Book Fair this year? How do you expect this fair to be different from other years? 

NSN: Book fairs are, as anywhere, a window to open for dissemination of cultural works and for widening the readership circle. The harsh financial situation in the Sudan will adversely affect the book fair. At any rate, the continuing launch of books at the fair proves the importance of printed material in today’s world, where the image and electronic media seem so dominant. This year, the list of newly published books give a sense of the ascendancy of writing and publishing on the Sudanese cultural scene.