I only knew a few things about Comoros, but after reading The Kaffir of Karthala by Mohammed Toihiri I feel like I know a lot more. I especially have somewhat of a grasp of culture, religion, relationship with France, as well as some hatred between different groups. It was not easy to find a book from the Comoros translated into English. Luckily enough Anis Memon (Phd) had translated Toihiri’s book as a personal project. Unfortunately the English version has not officially seen daylight, but Dr Memon was kind enough to let me read his translation.
The book starts out at the doctor’s office where the main character, Dr Idi Wa Mazamba, finds out from his colleague he has cancer. Idi is given twelve months to live, at most. After hearing this something changes inside of Idi. For example, he is a married man and he decides for the first time have an affair. The affair is with a French woman, which is in fact a big deal in the society he lives in.
Idi takes a look at the society around him, and sees racism and corruption all around him. He decides to take some action against the rules and regulations he’s been following his whole life, before it’s too late for him to do anything. Since he only has months to live, this would be the time to do something radical and irreversible.
“He knew that this was a country where diabetes was king, polio was waiting in ambush, hepatitis lay dormant, where leukemia, meningitis, cancer and AIDS put to whole heartedly. The afflicted knew nothing…” Being a doctor on the islands means you will not run out of patients. There are also other complications, mainly social ones.
“… They say that the Anjouanese don’t like the Grand Comorians, that the Maoris detest the Anjouanese, that the Grand Comorians hate the Anjouanese and that all of them would crush the Mohelians with their contempt, and the Mohelians would serve it right back to them without a thought.”
The book focuses a lot on different nationalities, minorities and groupings within this small nation. I have to say I was surprised by the strong Arabic and Muslim impact on the society, but after all it is the most southern country, and the only country on the Southern Hemisphere, belonging to the Arab League, so it shouldn’t have come as a surprise.
The mixture of cultures really makes Comoros an interesting place. Toihiri manages to write about serious and complicated issues in a deep, yet light and comprehensible way. For such a short book with many complex issues it is a surprisingly easy read. I found some of the traditions extremely interesting, especially weddings and marriage.
I would like to know more about the different minorities and groupings on the islands. There were many I have never heard of, and since this is fiction after all, once again I realized how little I actually know about our planet and its humans. Reading a book from every single country expands my knowledge for sure, but makes me even hungrier for knowledge.