Dystopian novel set in SOUTH EAST FRANCE
Talking Location With A B Kyazze – East and Central Africa
1st October 2022
When I was growing up in the Midwest United States, I never had the chance to travel. I didn’t even leave the country until I was 19 years old. But after that, I didn’t want to stop. In the following 19 years I went to about 40 countries for work, travel, or to visit friends and family.
Some locations stay vivid in my memory for a lifetime; this is helped by the fact that I am a photographer, and I have a strong visual memory of landscapes and portraits that I have taken. Three of these locations stay with me, even two decades later: the Highlands of Angola, the Eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the dry desert conditions of Darfur, Western Sudan.
Angola experienced a 26-year civil war, and I had the unusual experience of working there both before and after the abrupt end of that brutal conflict. I was a young policy officer working for Oxfam GB; my duty was to take photographs and testimonies of local people and humanitarian workers abut the human cost of that war. These I had to weave together in a report with desk research of “blood diamonds” and the lack of transparency in the oil and gas industry. I re-visited the country about four or five times over 18 months and saw huge changes. I learned an incredible amount about human resilience, as well as water, sanitation and public health on both sides of the front line.
That country, the stories of people, as well as the dramatic landscapes, stayed with me for decades. I didn’t know what to do with my experiences until 2015 when I started writing a short story set on a plane flight I was on in the highlands, one that nearly crashed. That short story turned into my debut novel, Into the Mouth of the Lion, published in May 2021. The novel is a fast-paced story about a young photographer trying to find her missing sister in the final days of that country’s war. It also is a love story that stretches from 1960s Lisbon to 1980s London, and onto Angola in 2002.
The Democratic Republic of Congo
I also had the opportunity to visit the DRC many times over a short number of years, first working with Oxfam GB, and then working with CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development. I learned different things from both organisations, and my readers will recognise some settings – such as the nunnery that provides a kind of refuge in Into the Mouth of the Lion. However, DRC is a fascinating country in its own right, and as I kept writing, I knew I had to dive in deeper.
In my new novel, Ahead of the Shadows, coming out in September 2022, we see humanitarian workers Lena and Kojo toiling under intense situations in eastern DRC, and the pressure mounts with dramatic events. Lena tries to make sense of it with her writing and camera, but there may be only so much she can take.
Darfur, Western Sudan
Ahead of the Shadows also takes place in Darfur, a region in Sudan that was heading into a much larger conflict when I was working there in 2003. In the novel I try to capture the eerie feeling of trying to piece together answers when the situation is new, changing and secretive, and human rights abuses happen beyond the eye of the media. It’s a very psychological novel, about the pressure people are under, and how that can be transmitted across different terrain, and influence the next generation.
I like to think of both Into the Mouth of the Lion and Ahead of the Shadows as ultimately hopeful books, although I can’t give away any spoilers. Ahead of the Shadows is also the parallel story of Bene, an unconventional teen, walking the gritty back streets of Paris for one night before he is due to fly to Nairobi to meet his father, a man he has never known. During the time he is in Paris, he takes photos of graffiti, meets a girl slightly older than him, Fatima, and has the time of his life. This book, like all my books, was really fun to write, and I hope readers get the same amount of pleasure in reading it.
A B Kyazze
Have you been to these places? Do the landscapes stay with you, years later? If so, or even if you’ve just travelled with your imagination through books, do get in touch with the author via Instagram, Twitter or her website
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