This is a story of a people on the eve of catastrophe. Others can tell of the catastrophe itself. I want to see the people in the last days of their innocence.
In human consciousness, where time has unimaginable contours, who can tell when events begin, and how they come to be?
My main intention in the writing of the novel was to imagine the time before the lives of Africans changed forever, just before the Atlantic slave trade. I wanted to recover a certain state of mind, to interrogate the spirit of a people and discover what made them susceptible to the catastrophe that was to befall them. I see parallels with the current environmental crisis, as we hasten towards an end that we refuse to see.
I felt I had to effect in the novel a mythical and poetic recovery of a civilisation. I had to be open to the ordinary and the magical, for the magical is nothing more than an expansion of consciousness.
In this novel, first published as Starbook in 2007, I wanted to find a new way to write about the tragedy that diminished the life of a people. It was a tragedy they didn’t know they were going through. Families suddenly lost sons and daughters and there was no explanation for their loss. It must have seemed a fearsome mystery.
The conjunction of tragedy and mystery is at the heart of the way the story is told. There had to be a tone of unknowing, for the people were still steeped in the rhythms of their lives while something terrible was happening to them.
The vantage point from which the story is told is both human and cosmic. The tale comes from somewhere beyond history, from somewhere in the consciousness of the land and the people, where all things, all traumas, all wonders, are remembered.
When I came to rewrite the novel, it was the tone I concentrated on most of all. What was needed was a new clarity. In the original I wanted to do too much. When I rewrote, I made things simpler. Then the political dimensions of the novel could rise again from the fabular depths of the tale. For me, the political, aesthetic, and intimate should each have an equal place in a work of art, part of the unseen tapestry of reality.
What I was aiming for was a style at once poetic and lucid, rich and clear. The novel had to hover between the glimpsed, the remembered and the lived.
The world is made of a stuff lighter than tears.