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God's Bits of Wood

3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  1,522 ratings  ·  92 reviews
In 1947-48 the workers on the Dakar-Niger railway staged a strike. In this vivid, timeless novel, Ousmane Sembène envinces the color, passion, and tragedy of those formative years in the history of West Africa.
Paperback, 252 pages
Published August 11th 2008 by Longman Publishing Group (first published 1960)
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‘We know what France represents,’ Bakayoko said, ‘and we respect it. We are in no sense anti-French; but once again, Monsieur le directeur, this is not a question of France or of her people. It is a question of employees and their employer.’
One of the tags I've been using on Tumblr with increasing frequency is 'life is politics is life.' Out of all the ideas the United States has actively worked against the most, this is easily one of the top five, because what I mean by this is not The West W
Vividly capturing the 1947-8 Dakar-Niger railway strike, God's Bit of Wood never ceases to shock, to inspire, and to ultimately shed light on an event that truly shaped the importance of the African culture. Despite its many characters and at times confusing names and places, each story of the workers and their wives, the whites and the oppressors, the beggars and the unloved, all demonstrate the immense struggle that everyone was going through during the strike and the tremendous courage it too ...more
A novel about a labor strike!? In Africa?

Hell yes!

The novel starts slow, and introduces a gabillion characters, like a later day Dostoevsky, but the slow build up and the endless characters are necessary, since the strike is a complicated story that needs to be told with delicacy and many individuals need to be highlighted to show the collective effort and to bring home the collective AND individual plight (not to mention show us the lives of the people in order to feel their deaths, successes,
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Sometimes foreign books in translation leave me cold, and sometimes I enjoy them although they’re quite different from the novels I’m used to reading, and it’s hard to tell in advance which books will be which. Happily, this one, written by a Senegalese author and relating the events of a labor strike in French West Africa (primarily set in what is now Senegal) in 1947-48, fell into the enjoyable category. But it is different from your standard English-language novel: it’s very much the story of ...more
Sadly, this book is extremely unsung. It is the African "Grapes of Wrath," in scope, politics, relevance, and in beauty of the prose. Sembene was as brilliant a film director as he was novelist. This books covers not just the events of the strike but the range of people involved, the workers, managers, and their families. Brilliant.
By now, I can confidently say that I've gotten to the point where I'm pretentious enough to hold all books that I haven’t heard of in suspicion. There are only so many books that someone can read in a lifetime, after all, and I want to narrow the field as much as possible, so as not to be overwhelmed by a dizzying number of choices. So when a friend gave me this volume, promising that I’d like it, I must say that I wasn’t convinced. After all, I hadn’t heard of it. Worse yet, it was published in ...more
Valeria Wicker
Shortly after WW2 the black rail workers on the Niger-Dakar line went on strike for six months. At the time, it was the longest labor strike in world history. This book is based on the events that surrounded the movement. It tells how community adapts as hunger and thirst set in. There are almost 45 characters in the book in three different settings, so the chapters become more like a set of short stories that are interconnected by the overall plot and a handful of selected characters. It is obv ...more
Corvinus Maximilus
The book is set in West Africa in a time of awakening for the African workers of the region. The story follows several strong characters and shows different ways in which they deal with the is a courageous tale of courageous people. The spirit that moves within this story fills me with hope that suffering creates strength to withstand anything...and eventually welcome celebration. Loss is part of life..

A beautiful study of the human spirit of endurance, and hope. Eternal and everlast
Joel Ntwatwa
Before you read the book, God's Bits of Wood seems a strange title. I think it is because it is a reference that is native to West Africa. As you continue to read, you think to yourself that there was no title better than this.

Sembène, my goodness!

I will tell you that I was drawn into the descriptions like a scientist with magnifying glass captivated by the subjects and happenings on the slide in his hand. He's a tailor that weaves a cloth so intricate and great that this is more than skill. Th
I use this with my students to try to teach about West Africa. I pair it with A Grain of Wheat for an East/West thing. The structure is much easier for them than A Grain of Wheat, but I'm not going to lie and say it really resonates with them. I want to bring labor history into the classroom and thought this would be a nice way to do it. It somewhat works because the story is compelling and there are interesting excursions into romance and the nature of love in Africa vs Europe. Let's face it, t ...more
Fred Fisher
I read this in translation from French. I learned a heck of a lot from this book. It takes place in the fifties when Africa was in the throes of tossing off the yoke of colonialism. The author was (perhaps still is) a labor organizer and member of the Communist Party. The story is about the effects of a strike at a French owned railway Senegal or as it was at the time French Senegal. It follows a number of people as they struggle, die and ultimately succeed in their labor action. Worth reading f ...more
Parastou Khiaban
The 1947–8 Dakar-Niger railway strike is known as one of the events that have truly shaped the importance of African culture. God’s Bits of Wood is a fictional piece based on the events that took place in the strike and never ceases to shock, inspire and most importantly, shed light on the events that took place.

Each individual battle, success, or death was mentioned in some way, which was sometimes confusing, but necessary in order to see the collective effort of countless families who struggle
Before reading Ousmane Sembène’s novel, I decided to read into his background a bit. I learned that he was an accomplished film director, writer, a soldier in WWII and a participant in the Dakar-Niger Railway strike. I also read that he belonged to a communist group and was a member of the communist party - that being said, I walked into the book with a certain set of expectations from it. First, I expected the book to be somewhat of a memoir. Secondly, I anticipated objective socialist language ...more
An historical novel about the railway workers' strike on the Niger-Dakar Railroad, of the struggles between the railroad workers against their French colonial employers. Showcasing the poverty and oppression of the African workers and their families, the workers realize that they need to unite if they are to successful gain economic and social equality for themselves. This is a really powerful and lyrical work that is both disturbing as it is inspirational.
Ousmane, forever the Africana feminist looked at workers strike that men thought they had under control-as always, the women were the ones that produced the final victory. Sembene continue the tradition of voicing exclusionary groups fight for equality as part of a larger social challenge. ultimately, victory is the way we treat our mothers, sisters, daughters. This point is illustrated in all his work: Xaxu, Guel War, Faat Kine...
I saw this on my library's 1001 bookshelf and was captivated by the colourful cover. As I haven't read nearly enough African literature but have enjoyed everything I have read, I decided to take a proverbial punt.

I found out that God's Bits of Wood was written about the 1947-8 Dakar-Niger railway strike, something which I knew nothing about and still know virtually nothing as there isn't very much information available on the Internet. This book was well written and engaged me right from the fir
Jan 04, 2009 Anjali marked it as to-read
I was recently thinking about Moolaade, a really uplifting and beautiful movie I saw with my Girls Group at my old job. I had no idea that the director (Sembene Ousmane, "father of African cinema") was also a novelist. Exciting!
God's Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène was a little bit outside of my usual reading. However, the list of 1001 books you must read before you die piqued my interest because of the subject matter--a strike by railroad workers on the Dakar-Niger line after World War Two. Instead of a detailed account of the strategy of the striking workers, the narrative circles around to various sets of characters along the line. I got a sense of the desperate situation the workers found themselves in; the hunger ...more
Martin Empson
"The collective understanding and developing identity is important. Senegal was starting down the road to independence as the events described are happening. This development of an identify forged in struggle is important for Ousmane, writing as he was on the eve of independence. Few books come close to showing what a strike is like for those taking part. Even fewer come close to allowing us to sense the real power of working men and women."

Full review:
Rob Forteath
Very much like Steinbeck, in both style and theme. It is at its best when depicting the breakdown of ordinary life during the struggle. The reader is never in any doubt as to whether or not the strike will succeed (just as viewers of "Titanic" never wonder if the ship will make it to New York); the real story is in how different characters deal with it.

The novel does a very good job of showing life under colonialism, without ever idealising or demonising either side. Even the best and worst char
James F
Ousmane's best known novel and one of the classics of African literature, this novel tells the story of the railroad workers' strike on the Dakar-Niger railroad in 1947-48. Unlike most of the literature I have read on Africa, although there are many tragic events in the book, it deals with a success -- the company was forced to give in to all the demands of the strikers. The events of the strike changed Senegal in many ways, and and was one of the causes leading up to the independence of the cou ...more
Harry Rutherford
This is a novel from 1960 about the railway workers’ strike on the Niger-Dakar railway 13 years earlier.

When I said in my Read The World challenge status update that I’d read 16 books this year, this was the half book; it has taken me rather a long time to finish. Mainly I think that’s because it is written in rather a high style. Elaborate descriptions, speechifying and a general tone of Serious Business.

I’m always wary of commenting on prose style for books read in translation, but it reads li
I was looking more allegorical writing as enticed by the back cover: “Ever since they left Thies, the women had not stopped singing. As soon as one group allowed the refrain to die, another picked it up, and new verses were born at the hazard of chance or inspiration, one word leading to another and each finding, in its turn, its rhythm and its place. No one was very sure any longer where the song began, or if it had an ending. It rolled out over its own length, like the movement of a serpent. I ...more
Boualam Fadia
The issue of language is seen throughout the novel. There is always a struggle between French and Ouolof, and so the language the character speaks is often clarified. However, there is an inherent irony in this attention to the role of the colonists’ language. God’s Bits of Wood was written in French under the title Les bouts de bois de Dieu. Thus, though the novel examines the importance of returning to the native languages, the main linguistic element in the original was French. There are even ...more
Ousmane Sembene is not only a film-maker and a writer, but through this great and detailed book in French, you also see his poetic gift. I loved this book for so many reasons. Being from West Africa, it is so refreshing to have such an important event as the West African Railway Strike of 1947-1948 told and by a West African writer who knows and understands the cultures, traditions, and languages.

Sembene did a fantastic job in incorporating facts in this work of fiction. Sembene illustrates the
While this makes me slightly sick to my stomach, I find myself agreeing with the colonialist view that polygamous marriage verges on a harem. I know the male author tries to do a fair job of presenting the women as other or as strong members of society and certain characters as having crisis of faith over the issue, but mainly I felt he did this in order to soften the reader's view and to win them over.

Otherwise the book, about such an interesting subject and such a paradigm shift in modern soc
This work of historical fiction about the West African railroad strike of 1947-48 was interesting and inspirational, though it took me quite a while to get into the story. The book tells of the strike through three different cities along the railroad line, each with their own large set of characters, and it was difficult to keep track of them all, let alone feel strongly connected to any one character. Nonetheless, I appreciated the collective inspiration of the hundreds of people who risked sta ...more
This book is a feat in that there's so much going on and it's all packed into a fairly short novel. Sembene has a large ensemble cast that is remarkably fleshed out for its size. During the course of a train strike, the characters all come into their own during the course of the train strike and move forward as a Community (which seems to be a big theme in old African books).

The ending is still haunting me.
I read this for college In our senior year of college, my now-husband and I took a class together, and it was awesome. The class was focused on utopian and distopian fiction and it got me reading books I never would have picked up otherwise, such as this one. Good times, and fond memories.
Incredibly engrossing tale of a strike by the African workers against the colonialist railroad owners in French Senegal in 1947. In just 250 pages, the book manages to track more characters than I care to name and give intimate details of their lives and stories without bogging down a powerful narrative. This book is not only an indictment of colonialism, but also an examination of gender roles and the role that women played in supporting this strike. I'm amazed that this book hasn't gotten more ...more
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Ousmane Sembène often credited in the French style as Sembène Ousmane in articles and reference works, was a Senegalese film director, producer and writer. The Los Angeles Times considered him one of the greatest authors of Africa and has often been called the "Father of African film."
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“Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty” 22 likes
“At the moment the eyes of the body closed, the eyes of the mind were opened.” 8 likes
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