This is my top choice among the great novels from Africa. “The last rays of the sun filtered through a shredded lacework of clouds,” reads the first sentence of the novel. What follows is a brilliant telling of a story, based on the 1947-48 strike by the workers on the Dakar-Niger railway. Ousmane Sembene brings to life the epic struggle of a colonized people, their triumphs and tragedies and the outstanding role played by women in that seminal event that galvanized Senegalese in a political struggle for freedom. Sembene himself participated in the strike in 1947.

Ousmane Sembene, who was best known for his celebrated film production, was a man of very little formal education (he dropped out of primary school) but a giant among the intellectuals. If I had to choose only one novel for my stay on a desert island, it would be God’s Bits of Wood.


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