Beyond the Door of No Return
by David Diop
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Pub Date 19 Sep 2023 | Archive Date 31 Oct 2023
A FINALIST FOR THE 2023 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR TRANSLATED FICTION
"A hypnotic, powerful historical novel in which stories nest within one another like dolls . . . It all coheres mesmerizingly." —Clémence Michallon, The New York Times Book Review
"Stunningly realized . . . Exquisite . . . A spellbinding novel." —Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King
The thrilling and deeply moving new novel by David Diop, winner of the International Booker Prize.
Paris, 1806. The renowned botanist Michel Adanson lies on his deathbed, the masterwork to which he dedicated his life still incomplete. As he expires, the last word to escape his lips is a woman’s name: Maram.
The key to this mysterious woman’s identity is Adanson’s unpublished memoir of the years he spent in Senegal, concealed in a secret compartment in a chest of drawers. Therein lies a story as fantastical as it is tragic: Maram, it turns out, is none other than the fabled revenant. A young woman of noble birth from the kingdom of Waalo, Maram was sold into slavery but managed to escape from the Island of Gorée—a major embarkation point of the transatlantic slave trade—to a small village hidden in the forest. While on a research expedition in West Africa as a young man, Adanson hears the story of the revenant and becomes obsessed with finding her. Accompanied by his guide, he ventures deep into the Senegalese bush on a journey that reveals not only the savagery of the French colonial occupation but also the unlikely transports of the human heart.
Written with sensitivity and narrative flair, David Diop’s Beyond the Door of No Return is a love story like few others. Drawing on the richness and lyricism of Senegal’s oral traditions, Diop has constructed a historical epic of the highest order.
A Note From the Publisher
"I read Beyond the Door of No Return with pleasure and admiration. David Diop has opened up a new way of thinking about the eighteenth century and its hideous cruelties." —Abdulrazak Gurnah, Nobel Prize–winning author of Afterlives
"Stunningly realized and written in exquisite prose, Beyond the Door of No Return is a love story, an adventure tale, and an unflinching examination of the unexpected ways that colonialism and greed ravaged everyone it touched, European and African. It is above all else, a spellbinding novel about the high price of betrayal—of others, and oneself." —Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, shortlisted for the Booker Prize
★ "A mesmerizing tale . . . Less brutal than Diop’s International Booker Prize–winning At Night All Blood is Black (2020) but no less powerful . . . With its sumptuous physical descriptions, shades of language, and smooth overlap of truth and invention, this is masterful storytelling. The ease with which the narratives (including Aglaé’s) unfold belies the emotional force they gather." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
★ "A captivating intergenerational epic influenced by Senegalese oral tradition . . . Told as a series of fast-paced stories within stories, the novel contemplates race, hierarchy, religion, legends . . . Diop writes excellently of historical and regional minutiae, as in his descriptions of the sheer heat and exhaustion his characters face on their travels. This is a novel to devour quickly, but which will leave readers contemplating its story long after." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Available on NetGalley
The renowned botanist Michel Arondson dies in France, having spent most of his life focused on his work, trying to make a great encyclopedia, to the exclusion of everything. His estranged daughter Aglaé nevertheless comes to his side, to spend her days with him as he dies. So she is there to hear his final word: “Maram.”
Aglaé is left a confusing mass of objects from his estate, including a hidden notebook telling of her father’s journey to Senegal as a young scientist and his brief encounter with Maram, a Senegalese woman he fell in love with and sought to save, once. The story is at once fantastical and tragic, a doomed love story.
I love Diop’s first book and International Booker winner, and this second one is equally as strong, though not nearly so brutal. Diop can weave a layered story in relatively few words, and leave you breathless.
Altogether different from his Booker-winning endeavour, Diop's new novel contains all the trappings which made the former so enrapturing. It combines an historical narrative brimming with intrigue with the same tight prose and attention to detail that will have readers hooked.