The Noir Atlantic follows the influence of African American author Chester Himes on Francophone African crime fiction. In 1953, Himes emigrated to Paris; he struggled there, just as he had in the United States. In 1957, his luck changed: the famous French Série noire brought out the first installment of his “Harlem” crime series, La reine des pommes. Suddenly, he was a household name in France. Later, he would also have a significant influence on Francophone African writers; for them, Himes’s blend of absurdist humor and violence offered an alternative to a high literary paradigm implanted during the colonial era. Likewise, his heterogeneous identity as American, black, and a writer of “French” bestsellers modeled an escape from the centripetal pull of the Métropole. Starting with Abasse Ndione’s depictions of Senegal’s marijuana-smoking subculture in La Vie en spirale (1982) and ending with Mongo Beti’s 2001 Branle-bas en noir et blanc, set in Yaoundé, Cameroon, Francophone African crime fiction rejected French criteria of literary success; it embraced a new postcolonial aesthetic that emphasized entertaining the reader while making a living. The Noir Atlantic demonstrates why turning to what this study calls a “frivolous literary” mode represented a profound shift in perspective that anticipated more recent developments such as littérature monde.
The Noir Atlantic is a captivating book in which Pim Higginson carves out new terrain through absorbing readings of the under-explored corpus of francophone African crime writing. Readers will be stimulated by the numerous insights provided into the multi-directional nature of cultural and political networks that have historically shaped relations between Africa, Europe, and the United States, and appreciate the far-reaching implications for diaspora, francophone, and postcolonial studies.
It will be useful not only to scholars of African literature in French but also to readers of Chester Himes’s novels and crime fiction in general. In short, this book makes interesting and important connections between Francophone African and African American literature. It is also, like the crime fiction it discusses, a very good read.