Neyla - Un incontro, due mondi

Kossi-Komla-Ebri

 

Neyla

Un incontro, due mondi

 

EDITING DI TOUBA CULTURALE ITALY srl

Prima edizione
Dicembre 2002
"Neyla" - Edizioni dell’Arco-Marna

Seconda edizione
Maggio 2011
"Neyla" - Edizioni dell’Arco


Terza edizione:
Maggio 2018
"Neyla"- TOUBA CULTURALE ITALY srl
via Cesare Battisti 1b 20854 Vedano al Lambro (MB)
toubaculturaleitaly@libero.it
+39 3804788847
Progetto grafico e impaginazione:
Alessandra Carcano
Stampato in Italia 2018
proprietà letteraria riservata
© Touba Culturale Italy srl

www.toubaculturaleitaly.wordpress.com

È vietata la riproduzione, anche parziale, con qualsiasi mezzo effettuata, compresa la fotocopia, anche ad uso interno o didattico, non autorizzata.


PREFACE

    An analysis of twentieth-century Italian fiction reveals an almost total absence of Black or African characters. This absence can be explained by the preference on the part of writers to write about what is most familiar to them. Some exceptions found in Alberto Moravia's work only serve to underline the fact that Blacks and Africans are unknown and therefore are exotic and inexplicable. Even after Moravia's trips to Africa in the 1960s and 1970s and in the three travel diaries and the resulting short story, there is no evidence of a change in attitude. In fact, these books reveal the author's apparent need to preserve a mysterious and different Africa. He often refers in a negative sense to modernized cities as "Europeanized" or "Americanized" and in a positive sense to undeveloped areas such as "real Africa". He also shows little interest in contemporary African writers whose works could serve to diminish his sense of inexplicability regarding Africa. On the contrary, his interest is in the primitive beauty of a dangerous and irrational nature. In the novel "The leopard woman", the "woman," embodied in the irrational and inexplicable life of the protagonist, is a reciprocal metaphor for "Africa", as explained by Giuseppe Stellardi in his excellent article in this regard 1.

  Now, thanks to the recent manifestation of an Italian-language literature of autobiographical writings and testimonials by African immigrants in Italy, we are no longer limited to the European point of view for our impressions of Africa and Africans.

However, with the novel Neyla Komla-Ebri, although inspired by his personal experiences, he goes far beyond the testimonial literature. He achieves this through an unusual narrative structure that he remembers1

 For a complete discussion of these works, see Giuseppe Stellardi, Africa as a female metaphor (and vice versa) in Alberto Moravia's The Leopard Woman, Italian Studies in Southern Africa, 6, 1 (1993), pp. 74-93.

Vasco Pratolini in Family Chronicle of 1945 where the narrator speaks directly with the "you" to his brother who is now dead. Similarly, "Neyla" is a one-voice dialogue between the narrator and Neyla. The narrator speaks directly to Neyla with the "you" when he remembers their experiences together during his return home from Europe. Even the occasional use of the testimonial "by us" can be justified by the fact that Neyla comes from a different region.

     On one level Neyla is a love story, but as Komla-Ebri himself explains in his "About Neyla", "it is above all the schematic representation of my love relationship with

Africa and a vision of Africa today. Africa is Neyla and Neyla is Africa ... "The parallel with The Leopard of Moravia is evident, but the female protagonists and, by extension, Africa that they embody, are completely different. While the protagonist of Moravia is ambiguous, mysterious and inexplicable, Neyla is direct, sensitive, prompt and explainable. More importantly, she personifies the conflict between traditional and modern Africa and as such is a means by which the narrator recovers his African identity now adapted to the present situation. "Thanks Neyla, for reuniting me with my people and my childhood."

     For the reader interested in Africa, Neyla is a treasure trove of experiences recorded through the eyes of an African who is both a participant and an observer, due to the fact that he has returned home from Europe. The natural guiding thread of the story exposes the reader to middle-class city life, the urban suburbs, an adventurous journey inland, and to the life of a village, including the work of a "healer". Its particular state

it also makes a comparison between Africa and Europe legitimate. So we have a comparison between African and European cities, African and European medical practices, African family relationships and

European, mutual African and European stereotypes and prejudices. "Please, son," continued Kokuvino, "never marrying a yovo [a white woman] will make you unhappy ..." And there is no shortage of criticisms of Africa. For example, after witnessing the payment of a bribe, the narrator comments: "I thought we were on the edge of the abyss, instead we had already hit bottom." And when criticizing the lack of adequate sewerage, he adds: "To think that already in Roman times there were sewers! It is incredible, we Africans cannot learn from the positive experiences of others: we continue undaunted to make the same mistakes. »

     On yet another level Komla-Ebri lyrically expresses his situation as the eternal exile, living between two cultures, or as his narrator says, "caught in that sandwich of two cultures, becoming a hybrid generation, no longer being totally African or European. » It expresses the good feeling of still being in Africa thinking: «It was a real delight ... being at home, an anonymous among many others, with no one to team you up, without feeling like a rare beast, as on many other occasions in Europe.» But ironically, at his first exposure to some more peculiarly African cultural rites, such as kissing the lips of spinster aunts, he realizes, "I had definitely become more" white "than I thought." He identifies himself intellectually with "the scientific determinism of western culture [which] continually warned me against credulities and tricks", but during his visit and through his relationship with Neyla, he discovers that he is still emotionally African: "Definitely that return to the roots was undermining and crumbling my certainties." With even greater importance, through Neyla and therefore through his re-attachment to Africa, he discovers his ability to cry, and in a central passage that reveals the author's strong lyrical sense, he expresses all the things for which for years he "would have wanted to cry ": from the personal" oppressive anguish that held me in its grip "to the social one for" my Africa always on the shores of misery ... "

     Through the works of Kossi Komla-Ebri, immigration literature, from autobiographical, nostalgic and "testimonial" literature, is evolving towards creativity. Komla-Ebri writes about remembered and revisited Africa and Italy as its adopted country, about the similarity and diversity in the intersection of cultures, on the tension between assimilation and conservation of cultural identity, and the battle of the individual within these contexts. Through the use of various narrative strategies, he has overcome the tendency for the testimonial tile to reach a universal quality lyricism that could represent a more mature phase of immigration literature in Italy.

                                                                              Peter N. Pedroni

                                  (Department of French and Italian, Miami University, Oxford, Ohio)

 

                                                         NEYLA

 

IT WAS SUMMER AND I WAS COMING HOME FROM EUROPE ON VACATION.

It had been five years since I had last been home and, like all the other times, I was wondering how I would manage to readapt myself to the changes and how I would get along with my younger brothers, who in the meantime had grown up.

That afternoon, two days after my arrival, I had gone to the office of my brother Basile, who had become an agronomic engineer, to see what kind of an atmosphere he worked in and most of all to understand what kind of work he did.

When I arrived, you were there at the reception desk with your slightly tinned glasses, with your petite face and brilliant skin, and your hair pulled back on the nape of your neck. What struck mc immediately was that stinging, impudent look of yours, the way you spoke French with a metropolitan cadence, and the particular odor of that perfume of yours.

When I asked you for the engineer Ameko Basile, you replied that I should wait a moment and, from behind my sunglasses, I found myself glancing at you, to observe your beautifully long and slender legs that you were stretching out beneath the desk, You, on the other hand, didn’t con- sider me worthy of an interested glance.

Basile came in all content and introduced me, not without a touch of pride in his voice, as his older brother who was studying in Europe. You replied with a pinch of insolence, “You can see from his sunglasses and from the pipe that he has in his mouth that he has come from Europe!”

And then you started laughing with that silvery sound that, still today, reverberates in my mind.

I have to admit, looking back now, that what won me over right away about you, was your way of not letting yourself be intimidated or overly influenced by events or situations. In general, our girls either close up right away like a clam or become clearly aggressive and scorbutic, or else they blissfully expose themselves to compliments regarding their name and titles. For you on the other hand, everything was a game, everything became relative, you seemed to have cut through the bark of an affirmed and secure man who went around showing off his certainties, to my weaknesses, my limitations and my insecurities. I felt my soul bared before your gaze.

I went away, a little stunned and a little astonished that I (who had the reputation of being a pretty witty guy) had been unable to find the words to retort to your self-indulging irony. I left with my brother, who was talking to me, still absorbed in my thoughts when he stopped short and said, “Hey, aren’t you listening to me?”

Seeing my puzzled look he added, “I would have bet on it!”

“On what?” I replied, and he explained, “Neyla made an impression on you.”

“Who?” I asked, even though I had already understood that he was talking about you; then I added, “The Parisian with her airs?” with a voice that wanted to be neutral and teasing ... he started laughing and didn’t know that I had already been bewitched.

On the way home, I tried to get you out of my mind, by concentrating on the organization of the homecoming party that I wanted to have with my brothers and cousins with music, dancing, refreshments, and sandwiches.

Then came the time to draw up the guest list.  Each of them would want to invite his or her boyfriend or girlfriend to make the evening more pleasant. I, who was the guest of honor, didn’t have anyone to invite. I hadn’t left behind a girlfriend at home because I had never believed in sentimental relationships at a distance of thousands of kilometers. What hap- pens inevitably is that you write in the state of mind of a precise moment and the person who gets the letter understands it in a different way.

Then in the time it takes to get the reply, you’ve already gotten beyond that moment and are in a different state of mind. The telephone, because of the cost, gives you just enough time to get into an argument or to cause a misunderstanding. You barely have time to make up and it’s already time to hang up.

That evening after supper, Basile and I went to get a cool beer at the bar near our house.

Coming out from the courtyard of our house, we suddenly found ourselves immersed in the hubbub of cars with their blinding white lights, the darting in and out of motor scooters and the sticky dust that they stirred up. We walked almost up against the wall so as not to get run over, since those streets have no sidewalks. Upon turning the corner, the darkness of night swallowed us up and wrapped us in a mantle giving me the pleasant sensation of being invisible, perhaps because my eyes were unable to distinguish the features of the people passing by. My brother, on the other hand, like everybody else, had developed something like a sixth sense that enabled him to recognize the people chat we met from their silhouettes together with their way of walking.

We sat down at a table in a discreet corner in the semidarkness of the veranda and each of us ordered a big bottle of nice cool lager and a couple of spicy snacks to inflame our palates. There was such torrid heat that whatever I threw down seemed to gush out through my pores. It was a real delight being there in the roar of the music that was going at full volume, there in the half-light, being at home, anonymous among so many others, with no one looking you over, without feeling like a rare beast, as  in Europe. I could have started shouting or dancing and no one would have stared at me in a strange way. Yes, I was home. After all, it is others who are the drama of “diversity,” because it is they who mirror you as “diverse” and they send back to you in some way that reflection of you which some- times you can’t even recognize.

All of a sudden Bé (that was the nickname I gave to my brother), snapped me out of my thoughts, “What do you think of Neyla?”

“What do you mean what do I thinks” I heard myself answer  him with  a hard and defensive voice, while I felt my face heat up stupidly and  I added even more stupidly, “Did you make it with her?”

From Bé’s astonished silence I realized that I had offended him and readopted a more easy going tone of voice.

“You know, I hardly saw her and I didn't have a chance to talk with her, but from that little that I heard, she must have lived in the Parisian area.” “You’re wrong brother, Neyla has never lived in France, she’s never been out of the country.”

“And  yet," I resumed, “her composure and her way of speaking are typically French; she seems like a white woman tinted black.”

“So you don’t like her,” concluded Bé.

“I didn’t say that. I have to admit she has class. She seems to be a girl that is very refined and sure of herself, maybe too much so,” I said.

“So you like her,” he retorted. “I didn’t say that either.

"And yet I’m convinced that she’s the type of girl that you like.”

“Oh really?” And I started laughing in amusement and added, “At least, my dear brother, give me the time to get to know her.”

I was enjoying this concern on the part of my brother to get me at all costs to settle down, a concern that I knew was shared by all the rest of my family, for the fact that at twenty-five years of age I still didn’t have a fiancée. They also lived in fear of the idea that I would end up tied down to a white woman in Europe.

Marrying a white woman for them meant erecting a definitive wall be- tween us. It wasn’t racism. It was just that I represented a lot for them: I was the one who could make their dreams come true, could give them a hand materially to come out of the tunnel of misery. I was the one who could pull up the rest of the family, giving my brothers the chance to pursue their studies, perhaps as my guests, in Europe. I was the fofogan (oldest brother) and that meant not only privileges but also, and above all, duties.

I was surely the one who could some day build another floor over the paternal homestead, to gain respect in the neighbourhood and make them feel more important. I was, for all of them, an important investment, a passport to the future and the retirement fund for their old age. If instead I was to marry a white woman, “Goodbye to all those cows, milk, and eggs”

Marrying a white woman meant always speaking French in her presence or in any case some foreign language, telephoning before arriving at dinner time or else waiting to be invited, or else leaving before meal time, so as not to create excessive tensions or so as not to undergo the humiliation of waiting in the living room while my wife and I would be eating.

Marrying a white woman meant bringing in  a  “stranger”  who would not appreciate our  customs  and  traditions,  who  would  not  be  accustomed to this heat, to the flies, to the mosquitoes, to the smells, to the noises,  to the plethora of relatives, the real ones and the parasites, to the reality of always being mixed up in the problems of the family, from the frivolous ones having to do with somebody’s touchiness to  those  that  were  more  or less serious.

Marrying a white woman was for them like losing me. It would be an act of major betrayal). What they couldn’t imagine was that, deep down, perhaps I had become more individualistic and egotistical than the whiles themselves. Yes, for them it would have been a real drama.

The end of a phrase that Bé was saying to me, brought me back again to reality: “… invite her to the party. Hey are you listening co me?”

“What?”

“If you want to, invite Neyla to the party,” my brother replied.

“You really don’t give up, do you? I can see that you’re really hung up on this,” I responded without adding anything else.

He took my words as an acceptance because he didn’t talk about it any more for the rest of the evening, while we were gulping down the third bottle of beer.

Instead we talked about our dreams for the future, about what our political leaders should do or could do to make a contribution to the future of our country. The two of us together could do great things! In other words, at the fourth beer we were both pretty happy, all ready to remake the world. It really was nice to be home again!

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