“Booker International Prize 2023: Books that made my shortlist for this prize.
“Standing Heavy”: In order of reading book number 3.
Employers are all too willing to overlook official status. The morphological profile is supposedly appropriate. Morphological profile . . . Black men are heavy-set; Black men are tall; Black men are strong; Black men are deferential; Black men are scary. It is impossible not to think of this jumble of “noble savage” clichés lurking atavistically in the minds of every White man responsible for recruitment and every Black man who has come to use these clichés to his advantage.
Gauz, a writer from the Ivory Coast, is both politically engaged and a satirist, and this book, released in France in 2014 tells the story of young and not so young black men arriving in France from west Africa. He takes us from the sixties to the present day. The opening quote is both is an example of his writing style, concise, pared back to the message. This work is full of pertinent observations and the definitions, for instance that money is more easily available in the wealthy shopping areas such as the Champs Élysée than in poor areas, the message given as here in a definition:
Fast STM. 7 seconds, typing the code included, is the time needed for an HSBC ATM on the Champs Élysée to cough up 20 euros. At the Crédit Lyonnais on the rue Louis Bonnet in Belleville, the same operation takes 43 seconds! On the Champs Élysée money spent as fast as it is given…In the poor quarters, even the ATMs think twice before giving you money.
The story loosely follows characters from the Ivory Coast in Paris as the times change, from the students of the sixties invited over to study and to work in their run down accommodation to the next generation after the oil crisis, of often undocumented migrants living in these same student flats, sub-let to many more of them by the previous generation, but where work was still plentiful, through the aftermath of the twin towers to the current day.
A clever book, fun but gets its message over.
First Published in french as “Debout-payé” in 2014, by Le nouvel Attila. Translated into English by Frank Wynne and published in 2022 as “Standing Heavy ” by Maclehose Press.
The quotes as read in French before translation
les regards sont volontairement bienveillants sur les situations administratives, le profil morphologique est prétendument adéquat. Profil morphologique…Les noirs sont costauds, les noirs sont grands, les noirs sont forts, les noirs sont obéissants, les noirs font peur. Impossible de ne pas penser à ce ramassis de clichés du bon sauvage qui sommeillent de façon atavique à la fois dans chacun des blancs chargés de recruitment, et dans chacun des noirs venus exploiter ces clichés en sa faveur.
Fast GAB. 7 secondes, composition du code comprise, c’est le temps qu’il faut à un guichet automatique de la HSBC des Champs-Élysées pour cracher 20 euros. Au Crédit Lyonnais de la rue Louis Bonnet à Belleville, la même opération prend 43 secondes! Aux Champs-Élysées, l’argent est vite donné, mais aussi vite dépensé… Dans les quartiers pauvres, même les distributeurs automatiques hésitent à vous refiler de l’argent.