Jean-Claude Derey's Toubab or not toubab is a powerful, remarkable, terrible novel.
Mixing the noir with the picaresque and transcending both, it tells the African story of Hondo, a 12-year-old Mauritanian camel sheppard on the run from a crime he has not committed and lovelorn for his master's daughter. Like a pre-adolescent Dante he travels through layers of hell, as he comes across organ hunters, perverse policemen, junked-out ex-child soldiers in the backstreets of Abidjan.
There is no redemption, no salvation to be found, no truth hiding under the shadows of misery and mutilation that chill the pages of the book, cutting away at any hope with the severity of a blunt machete. And yet Derey has the empathy to inject poetry and a little humor in his tale.
These days it acts as a reminder that Abu Ghraib is not only a place in geography and time but a state of mind. War spells not only Iraq but a state of being. Aggression, oppression, violence a state of politics. The result is that this slim volume packs the punch of a heavyweight, and floors you with its pain.
I couldn't find word of an English translation, but there deserves to be.