Sunday, December 31, 2006

Don't write History, let Geography have it's say

I have just finished reading Daniel Pennac's "The Fairy Gunmother". A most enjoyable read, and the second part of the Malaussene Saga, set in the Paris neighbourhood of Belleville. One of the lead characters, Benjamin Melaussene, is employed as a scapegoat by a succession of companies. His partner, Julie Correncon, is the daughter of "ex-Colonial Governor Correncon, the Independence Man, as some newspapers put it at the time, or else The Gravedigger of the Empire" and recollects her time living with her father.
"Correncon had been the first to negotiate with the Viet Minh, when it still hadn't been too late to avoid a massacre. Under Mendes-France, he'd worked out a self-governing status for Tunisia, then he'd worked under De Gaulle when it was necessary to give Black Africa back its freedom." p224
The recollection continues with a list of visitors to their farmhouse: Farhat Abbas, Messali Hadj, Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, Ibn Yusuf and Bourguiba, Leopold Sedar Senghor and Kwame Nkrumah, Sihanouk and Tsiranana. Other names included Vargas, Arraes, Allende, Castro and Che. That's some list!

Ex-Colonial Governor Correncon believed in Geography. "Don't try to write History, just let Geography have its say" to which Che laughed "Geography is just a collection of movable facts."

Julie Correncon's recollection continues.
"What is a colony, student Giap?", Correncon asked in a colonial schoolmaster's voice.

And, just to make Julie laugh, Vo Nguyen Giap, who was later to become the victor of the battle of Dien Bien Phu, replied in a schoolboy's chant:

"A colony is a country whose civil service belongs to another country. For example: Indochina is a French colony and France is a Corsican colony". p224
From the laughter the recollection passes to the aftermath.
No sooner had countries been given their independence, than Geography had started making History again, as though it were an incurable disease. An epidemic with a high death count. Lumumba was executed by Mobutu, Ben Barka's throat was cut by Oufkir, Farhat Abbas was exiled, Ben Bella imprisoned, Ibn Yusuf eliminated by his own men, Vietnam was forcing its own History onto a Cambodia which had been bled dry. Friends from the ... farmhouse were being hunted down by friends from the ... farmhouse. Che himself had been shot in Bolivia, with, so it was whispered, Castro's tacit agreement. Geography endlessly tortured by History ..." p226
So it goes. So it goes. "Geography endlessly tortured by History".

[ Many apologies for the apostrofly in the heading of this piece. I am going to do the honourable thing and go outside and shoot a panda. ]

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