A nameless young man lives in the housing projects outside of Paris. When he was a child, his parents moved with him from the Congo to France, hoping in vain to escape poverty and violence. His best friend, Drissa, is in a psychiatric hospital and now Mireille, his girlfriend, the woman with whom he has shared his childhood and hopes, has left him to reconnect with her Jewish roots in Israel. During a night out to drown the pain of his heartache, there is a fight with a policeman, the policeman dies, and the young man is arrested and taken to jail. Between police beatings and abrupt interrogations, his memory becomes his sole ally to escape from the exiguous space in which he is confined. Half-conscious and delirious, he reflects on his journey from the land of his ancestors to his life in the projects with Drissa and Mireille. In The Heart of the Leopard Children, N’Sondé explores the themes of love and pain, belonging and uprooting, desire and fear—all with an implacable and irresistible accuracy. Wilfried N’Sondé’s first novel awakens the reader with an urban symphony of desire and lost love, attuned to the violence that accompanies the struggle for social ascension and a sense of belonging, and the paralyzing sentiment of betrayal that inhabits a young man caught between traditions and cultures. Awarded the Prix des Cinq Continents de la Francophonie and the Prix Senghor for the originality of his work, the author captures the sounds, rhythms and pleas of a young man who pulls on the alarm from his prison cell to warn against the multiple barriers of confinement that risk the future of certain sectors of French youth today.
Traveling between the France of his experience and the Africa of his imagination, the narrator offers a powerful view of the immigrant, never quite at home, always a stranger in two places. . . Francophone African writers, like African writers generally, are too little known in this country. This brief but potent tale shows that N’Sondé is one who merits attention.
N’Sondé has burst onto the literary scene with this brief yet powerful tale.
World Literature Today
Densely and beautifully written, the chapterless narrative absorbs like a thriller and reads like a prose poem. Sophisticated readers should grab.
A breathtaking first novel . . .
I am also very fond of francophone literature outside of France . . . Wilfried N’Sondé, the author of The Heart of the Leopard Children . . . is someone quite remarkable.
J. M. G. Le Clézio
winner of the 2008 Nobel Prize in Literature