LONGLISTED FOR THE 2021 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED LITERATURE
A mesmerizing novel from the winner of the Alternative Nobel Prize in Literature
Babakar is a doctor living alone, with only the memories of his childhood in Mali. In his dreams, he receives visits from his blue-eyed mother and his ex-lover Azelia, both now gone, as are the hopes and aspirations he’s carried with him since his arrival in Guadeloupe. Until, one day, the child Anaïs comes into his life, forcing him to abandon his solitude. Anaïs’s Haitian mother died in childbirth, leaving her daughter destitute—now Babakar is all she has, and he wants to offer this little girl a future. Together they fly to Haiti, a beautiful, mysterious island plagued by violence, government corruption, and rebellion. Once there, Babakar and his two friends, the Haitian Movar and the Palestinian Fouad, three different identities looking for a more compassionate world, begin a desperate search for Anaïs’s family.
1) What are your impressions of Condé as a writer? What makes her unique?
2) What feeling did the novel leave you with, as a whole?
3) What did you make of the ending? Was it a good thing for the main characters, do you tihnk?
4) There are many community-shattering events in the novel: earthquakes, wars, and (talk of) massive floods. Does this express a general anxiety about transience?
5) What can freedom mean in the midst of constant upheavals? What can love mean in these circumstances?
6) Can something that might be a legitimate personal choice in a country like the UK or the US be selfish or frivolous in a warzone?
7) There are plenty of painters and poets mentioned in this novel. Is Art useless, will Art save the world …?
8) Does nature have a hidden benevolent face in Condé’s world, or are we only waiting for it to drown us?
9) Is it always a danger that victims become the new oppressors? Is it something we should be more aware of?
10) Can you relate to the idea that what is often called terrorism might usually be a last resort for people with no other options left?
11) Does the novel leave you feeling optimistic about the possibility of transcending race-based antagonism?
12) Did you sometimes lose track of where the scene you were reading took place? Do you think it was you, or might this be significant?
13) What does the novel say about parenting?
14) How important is Anaïs to the story? What kind of person might she become?
15) Did the casual way the novel dealt with prostitution bother you? Is its omnipresence similar to that of violent conflict?
16) Did you mind not understanding the bits of Creole dialogue? Can not understanding be a good experience sometimes?
17) Did you learn anything you didn’t know about Haiti? Was your curiosity roused?
18) Have you read any English-language books by writers from the Caribbean? Are they in any way comparable to this one?
19) Did Waiting for the Waters to Rise remind you of any other novels you like?
Praise for Marysé Conde
“She describes the ravages of colonialism and the post-colonial chaos in a language which is both precise and overwhelming. In her stories the dead live close to the living in a world where gender, race, and class are constantly turned over in new constellations.”
ANN PÅLSSON, Jury, New Academy Prize in Literature
“Condé is a born storyteller.”
“Maryse Condé is a treasure of world literature, writing from the center of the African diaspora with brilliance and a profound understanding of all humanity.”
“Maryse Condé is the grande dame of Caribbean literature.”
Praise for Waiting for the Waters to Rise
“Condé’s text, in fact, is sprinkled with the names of global literary giants—Aimé Césaire, Jacques Roumain, Ousmane Sembène, Mahmoud Darwish, Derek Walcott—a roll call she certainly deserves to be added to.”
New York Times
“Maryse Condé’s Waiting for the Waters to Rise begins in her native Guadeloupe but is ultimately a novel that centers on statelessness. The three characters at the novel’s heart—Babakar, Movar, and Fouad from Mali, Haiti, and Palestine respectively—are all migrants driven from their homelands. Condé is a master storyteller capable of traversing multiple countries with their own histories of colonialism and political violence so that we come to know each character more intimately and why the friendship they forge is so vital to their survival.”
“While this novel takes its protagonist Babakar through civil wars and other scenes of global strife, it also moves forward and backward in time to illustrate the actions that took place decades and centuries before and contributed to his current state. The result is a moving story of isolation, community, and families both chosen and biological.”
TOBIAS CARROLL, Words Without Borders
“At once touching and devastating, the book explores the effects of loss and grief on a personal, communal, and national level, but does so with a personal voice that feels more like a having a conversation than reading a book…it is a novel that cements Condé as a literary giant who beautifully chronicles the humanity found in some of the most violent places in the world.”
GABINO IGLESIAS, NPR
“Maryse Condé’s novel Waiting for the Waters to Rise addresses immigration, nationalism, friendship, colorism, and political power through the intersecting lives of three friends…As the story jumps from locale to locale, it conjures up the sense of statelessness that binds the men together. The prose is fluid, luminous, and evocative of each setting…The subtle cynicism throughout the novel is balanced by the love the men have for each other.”
Foreword Reviews, starred review
“Condé puts forth the secrets and histories of a fascinating cast, producing a timeless exploration of the wounds that emerge—and linger—when people lose those who mean the most to them, be it their family, friends, or country. This faithful portrayal of grief and displacement is tough to forget.”
“When I think of Maryse Condé, I think of stories with a ton of magical flair. Waiting for the Waters to Rise is a moving read for the way the language gently draws you in. Condé’s language is dreamlike, suffused with poetry. The novel is enough of a page-turner, but what really keeps you transfixed to the page is the writing.”
AINEHI EDORO, Brittle Paper
“A love letter to the Caribbean”
“Maryse Condé has lost nothing of her inimitable style, nor of her talent for painting strong and true characters.”
“Maryse Condé has that remarkable talent of illuminating characters who are immersed in shadows.”
“As always, Condé here delivers a sublime novel, mesmerizing, traversed by the destiny of three characters between Africa, the Antilles, and Haiti.”
“A poignant and discreet story, with endearing characters.”
“A map of anguishes and hopes, written in a sensual and melodic language.”
“An enthralling novel, traversed by the destinies of three people, three men linked by an unbeatable friendship, who struggle to break free of their past.”
“A dense book, a novel with complex layers, a beautiful lesson of humanity in a hostile world.”
“A novel with multiple twists, but always clear, at the end of which the author leaves us knocked out.”
“The author Maryse Condé reveals, once again, her talent as a storyteller à la Selma Lagerlof. She knows how to give body and soul to those caught in the whirlwinds of a merciless history that often surpasses and sometimes destroys them.”
FESTIVAL DU LIVRE
“A translucent novel about the need to make one’s destiny intelligible, even while being stateless, an immigrant, exiled, rejected.”
Gens de la Caraïbe
“A text of great poetry, and a deep exoticism in which we find traces of Jacques Roumain or Jacques Stéphen Alexis.”