Tuesday, August 9, 2022

WITMonth Day 9 | Far From My Father by Véronique Tadjo

Upon finishing Far From My Father by Véronique Tadjo (translated from French by Amy Baram Reid), I found myself itching to find more of her works. The additional material on Tadjo included in my edition made references to her earlier novels, as translated into English. It didn't take me long to realize that those novels were no longer in print. Indeed, despite a rather rich catalog of works in both French and in English translation, Tadjo is a fairly "under-the-radar" sort of writer. Far From My Father and her recent not-quite-novel of the Ebola epidemic In the Company of Men (translated by the author and John Cullen) are the only two of her books that I have been able to easily track down. This, again, despite many of her works actually having been translated into English (and published). Including children's books! Go figure.

It's hard not to want to keep reading Tadjo's writing after settling into Far From My Father. The novel - marketed as semi-autobiographical, though I have found myself less and less inclined toward that definition in recent years - is crisply written, with a clarity that I wish more stories has. It tells of a woman returning to her old family home, upon the death of her father. There, she untangles pieces of her history and her father's secrets, with a solid exploration of identity and selfhood.

If you're reading that brief (and wholly inadequate) description and thinking "that sounds really banal", you're right that it's a basic framework that has been written of many times throughout history. But Far From My Father is elevated by a warm directness, excellent writing, and a solid understanding of its own limits. A lot of family stories get bogged down in their attempts to explain everything and everyone; Far From My Father is thankfully a fairly brief novel and one that knows to tighten its focus when needed, even if I didn't love some of the subplots and tangents.

At its best, Far From My Father tells of the complications that arise after a man's death. There are practical considerations, but also an emotional toll from the very predictable decisions that need to be made. Not to mention, the aforementioned secrets. It doesn't necessarily feel like outright spoilers to get into the details, but ultimately it also doesn't feel necessary. Is it not enough for a novel to examine grief, loneliness, and self-identity? Is it not enough for a novel to weave together different threads without actually forming a whole picture out of them, instead leaving much open to reader to continue contemplating?

Regarding the latter, I can see how Far From My Father might not work for everyone. Tadjo doesn't linger much on her characters, who can often feel a tad hollow as they orbit the protagonist. But it also very clearly isn't their story, and some characters in particular are almost designed to be just a little... vague, I suppose. Imprinted.

This is not a long enough book to justify writing a full, detailed review. I'm not sure I'd have something particularly meaningful to write, either. I can only emphasize that initial sentiment: Reading Far From My Father immediately made me want to pick up Tadjo's other works. This is a novel that can feel a little underbaked at times (see the above-mentioned hollow characters, as well as that all-too-common blurry plot matter), but its writing is so immediately engaging that it's hard to set the book aside. And isn't that one of the great strengths of literature?

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts, as I've not yet read beyond her In the Company of Men (other than a short story collection that she edited many years ago) but was left with the same feeling you've described here: More, Please.


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