The Silence of the Spirits

The Silence of the Spirits, the second novel by award-winning Afropean writer Wilfried N'Sonde, is the haunting story of a former African child soldier, Clovis Nzila, who makes his way into France illegally. Destitute and at the end of his rope, Clovis has spent an exhausting day avoiding the police. Feeling hopeless and with nothing to lose, he decides to jump onto a commuter train heading out of Paris. Sitting across from him on the train is Christelle, a red-haired, middle-aged woman heading home from her job as a nurses' aide at a Paris hospital. Sensing Clovis's distress, Christelle's "heart suddenly ignited... recognizing the pain from her own life in [his] eyes"; she wants to console him.

Their lives are so different, yet their pasts have much in common, including a shared history of violence, drawing them irresistibly toward each other. Over the next 24 hours, they joyfully discover comfort and solace in one another's company. Christelle brings Clovis "into her universe" and envelops him "in an aura of light." They enter "the epicenter of a magical vortex of curiosity, yearnings and desires." N'Sonde's lyrical prose, beautifully translated by Karen Lindo, is almost hypnotic in its intensity. It eventually forces the reader to bear witness to the atrocities committed by Clovis in the name of freedom, leaving us to wonder if he and Christelle can ever move beyond his violent past.

N'Sonde's broader message concerns hostility toward illegal immigrants and the danger for those who provide shelter to them. Originally written in 2009, this powerful story is narrated in Clovis's voice and unfolds through his desperate but hopeful eyes. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer

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