Passage of Tears

Abdourahman A. Waberi

Translated by David and Nicole Ball


5 x 8 inches, 224pp. Paperback FORTHCOMING

ISBN : 9780857420213 & 9780857425317

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$21.00 (HB)     19.00 (PB)
£13.50 (HB)     12.99 (PB)

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Djibouti, a hot, impoverished little country on the Horn of Africa, is a place of great strategic importance, for off its coast lies a crucial ‘passage’ for the world’s oil. Djibril, a young Djiboutian voluntarily exiled in Montreal, returns to his native land to prepare a report for an American economic intelligence firm. Meanwhile, a shadowy, threatening figure imprisoned in an island cell seems to know Djibril’s every move. He takes dictation from his preaching cellmate known as his ‘Venerable Master’, but, as the words are put on the page, a completely different text appears—the life of Walter Benjamin, Djibril’s favorite author.


Passage of Tears cleverly mixes many genres and forms of writing—spy novel, political thriller, diary (replete with childhood memories), travel notebook, legends, parables, incantations and prayers. Djibril’s reminiscences provide a sense of Djibouti’s past and its people, while a satire of Muslim fundamentalism is unwittingly delivered through the other Djiboutian voice. Waberi’s inventive parody is a lesson in tolerance, while his poetic observations reveal his love and concern for his homeland.

The French-Djiboutian novelist, poet and essayist Abdourahman A. Waberi is one of the leading francophone writers of his generation. His other books include The Land Without Shadow, Harvest of Skulls and Rifts, Roads and Rails.


Together or separately, David and Nicole Ball have published nine book-length translations from the French, including Abdourahman A. Waberi’s Passage of Tears (2011) for Seagull Books. Nicole is the translator of Maryse Condé’s Land of Many ColorsDavid of Darkness Moves: An Henri Michaux Anthology, 1927–1984, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu the King and poems by James Sacré and other poets. Both have translated stories in Haiti Noir and Paris Noir (Akashic Books.) Their most recent translations have appeared in Words Without Borders: The Online Magazine of International Literature. Both have retired from the faculty of Smith College and share their time between Northampton, Massachusetts, and Paris.

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