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God's Bits of Wood

3.91  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,657 Ratings  ·  96 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 Pearson (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
Feb 02, 2011 Brittany rated it it was amazing
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
May 20, 2013 Troy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 17, 2010 Jordan rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 15, 2016 Lotz rated it really liked it
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
Apr 22, 2012 Valeria Wicker rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 25, 2011 Corvinus Maximilus rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa, brilliant
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
Apr 06, 2014 Tarkpor rated it it was amazing
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...
Joel Ntwatwa
Feb 25, 2015 Joel Ntwatwa rated it really liked it
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
Mar 23, 2016 Elizabeth rated it it was amazing
Shelves: dar-book-club
This writing was fabulous- the style, the vocabulary, the pace of it- all wonderful. Obviously a remarkable book in its original French (I think it was originally written in French), but a wonderful translation, as well. So many interesting threads to discuss- I am looking forward to the book club discussion tonight.
Sep 01, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
Nov 23, 2012 Fred Fisher rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 22, 2013 Parastou Khiaban rated it it was amazing
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
Dora Okeyo
Apr 06, 2016 Dora Okeyo rated it really liked it
It is not necessary to be right to argue, but to win it is necessary both to be right and never to falter

Sembene brings to life the plight of workers in Senegal in 1947 as they fight for their rights. It is a well written account of an actual historical event, The Dakar Railway Strike which took place in October 10, 1947 to March 19, 1948.
This book was recommended by my Mom who insisted that I should read it after reading Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Petals of Blood. Both books highlight workers revolu
Jun 14, 2014 conec rated it really liked it
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
Mar 19, 2013 Caroline rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 02, 2015 Nicola rated it liked it
Shelves: 1001-books
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!
Martin Empson
Dec 22, 2014 Martin Empson rated it it was amazing
"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
Jun 21, 2014 Rob Forteath rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2015 James F rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 23, 2013 Cheryl rated it liked it
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
Feb 29, 2012 Joanna rated it really liked it
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
May 11, 2009 Kim rated it it was ok
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
Jan 27, 2015 Daniel rated it really liked it
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.
Mar 06, 2016 Elena added it
Ousmane uses a zillion characters to get his point across, so it comes off as a mosaic first, and a narrative second. Whats more, while its about a railroad strike and a political struggle, it also offers a window into domestic life in Senegal, and the conventions of the family and the community, which I like more myself.l
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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."
More about Ousmane Sembène...

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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” 23 likes
“At the moment the eyes of the body closed, the eyes of the mind were opened.” 8 likes
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