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NAMED A MOST ANTICIPATED READ OF THE YEAR BY MS. MAGAZINE
Drawing on real accounts of the Ebola outbreak that devastated West Africa, this poignant, timely fable reflects on both the strength and the fragility of life and humanity’s place in the world.
Two boys venture from their village to hunt in a nearby forest, where they shoot down bats with glee, and cook their prey over an open fire. Within a month, they are dead, bodies ravaged by an insidious disease that neither the local healer’s potions nor the medical team’s treatments could cure. Compounding the family’s grief, experts warn against touching the sick. But this caution comes too late: the virus spreads rapidly, and the boys’ father is barely able to send his eldest daughter away for a chance at survival.
In a series of moving snapshots, Véronique Tadjo illustrates the terrible extent of the Ebola epidemic, through the eyes of those affected in myriad ways: the doctor who tirelessly treats patients day after day in a sweltering tent, protected from the virus only by a plastic suit; the student who volunteers to work as a gravedigger while universities are closed, helping the teams overwhelmed by the sheer number of bodies; the grandmother who agrees to take in an orphaned boy cast out of his village for fear of infection. And watching over them all is the ancient and wise Baobab tree, mourning the dire state of the earth yet providing a sense of hope for the future.
Acutely relevant to our times in light of the coronavirus pandemic, In the Company of Men explores critical questions about how we cope with a global crisis and how we can combat fear and prejudice.
About the Author
Véronique Tadjo is a poet, novelist, academic, and artist from Côte d’Ivoire. She earned a doctorate in Black American Literature and Civilization from the Sorbonne, Paris IV, and went to the United States as a Fulbright scholar at Howard University in Washington, DC. She headed the French Department of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg until 2015. Her books have been translated into several languages, from The Blind Kingdom (1991) to The Shadow of Imana: Travels in the Heart of Rwanda (2001) and Queen Pokou: Concerto for a Sacrifice (2005), which was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature d’Afrique Noire in 2005.
“In the Company of Men is full of scenes that feel eerily familiar—health care workers maxed out and running low on supplies, tending to patients who might not get better; family members who can’t hug, kiss, or care for each other, afraid of spreading a contagious virus…it captures so effectively how the gestures of affection and consolation and connection become the vectors of disease.” —NPR, All Things Considered
“A fable of the Ebola outbreak, complete with a healer’s potions, university closings, and an ancient baobab tree.” —New York Times
“Resonant, unflinching…As personal and humane as it is biblically grand…a timely testament to the destructive powers of pandemics.” —Publishers Weekly
“From multiple perspectives, Tadjo examines the effects of pandemics like the Ebola crisis and the toll they take on our health, our communities, and our humanity. Particularly relevant to our times.” —Ms. Magazine
“[In the Company of Men’s] lingering significance highlights the human(e) reactions in the face of impossible, fatal situations…Tadjo’s stark novel exposing the Ebola crisis in West Africa resonates amidst the worldwide pandemic.” —Shelf Awareness
“Resonant…The novel’s structure highlights strong emotions, while clearly communicating the facts of the disease and the outbreak.” —Booklist
“[Tadjo] intertwines facts, well-known songs, legends, poems, fictionalized testimonials, and documentary prose in the stirring orality of this novel to give voice to the humanitarian disaster and to interrogate Ebola’s historical and biospheric currency…Realistic, painterly, and poetic, the impeccably structured polyvocal novel registers the urgency, despair, commitment, dedication, and solidarity that Ebola provokes and leaves one at times shivering.” —World Literature Today
“Véronique Tadjo’s In the Company of Men is more than a story about Ebola. This novel, elegiac and sorrowful, is also an affirmation of the cycle of life and nature’s important place in it. What do the living owe to the dead? What do they owe to the earth, which both protects and punishes? Tadjo offers us her powerful, luminous answers in this book.” —Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, short-listed for the 2020 Booker Prize
“I kept talking to my Kenyan father, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, about In the Company of Men as I read it because it resonates so deeply with our own familial history. His father left a pandemic in his village in the late 1800s and was cautioned never to talk about it, so we have no history beyond my great-grandfather. Tadjo, writing so urgently and beautifully about Ebola two centuries later at a time of Covid-19, is our witness.” —Mũkoma wa Ngũgĩ, Professor of English at Cornell University and author of Nairobi Heat and Black Star Nairobi
“Tender and compassionate, this vivid, often heart-wrenching account of the courage of Ebola frontline workers caring for those ravaged by the disease is an important reminder of the human and emotional cost of one of the worst epidemics of our age.” —Elnathan John, author of Born on a Tuesday
“Véronique Tadjo’s timely novel, In the Company of Men, is at once a spellbinding narrative about the roots and ravages of an Ebola outbreak and a reminder that deadly new diseases spreading from humankind’s encroachments on the natural world recognize no borders, political parties, or faiths. We are all in this together under ‘the first tree, the everlasting tree, the totem tree,’ which in this telling is the Baobab. But it could easily be another tree in another land. This is essential reading.” —Christopher Merrill, author of Self-Portrait with Dogwood
“It is chilling to read Véronique Tadjo’s In the Company of Men when the world trapped by Covid-19 wonders why the numbers on the African continent are still not skyrocketing. The book reminds us that pandemics are world phenomena, and in doing so hits its most lyrical tone. Tadjo lets the virus speak, speak to us, and answer in the face of disaster and community, in the court of the people, animals, and trees. A necessary book today.” —Patrice Nganang, author of Mount Pleasant and When the Plums Are Ripe
“This is an extraordinary novel for our times. Véronique Tadjo weaves a story that turns the 2014 Ebola epidemic in West Africa into a parable of what happens when the chain that connects human beings to nature is broken. Lyrical and wrenching at the same time, In the Company of Men gives voice to the natural world and mourns the loss of the well-being that existed before the destruction of the environment and the arrival of postmodern pandemics.” —Simon Gikandi, Robert Schirmer Professor of English, Princeton University
“In an era of accelerating translational contagions, the uncannily global resonances of Véronique Tadjo’s novel grow in amplitude. This is a remarkable fiction that becomes ever more topical and probing with the passing of time.” —Russell West-Pavlov, University of Tübingen, Germany
“[A] powerful, poetic ode to life in a country of ancient customs, ravaged by death…A magnificent and essential text.” —Le Figaro Madame