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The Ultimate Tragedy

Author: Abdulai Sila

Translator: Jethro Soutar   Cover design: Marie Lane  

'Silá delights in using humour to spear hypocrisy and there is some startling imagery at play in many passages. He also demonstrates a flair for technically adventurous storytelling, with the novel featuring one-sided conversations here and deft uses of repetition there. The passages in which Ndani falls in love at last are beautiful and joyous, as are the descriptions of her discovery of sexual fulfillment.'

Ann Morgan Book of the Month in A Year of Reading the World

'Sila tells an interesting story... He does mock the whites, all too often commenting on their foibles through the eyes of his characters... However, there is no doubt that he feels that most if not all the ills of his people are to be laid at the door of the colonial Portuguese. Indeed, his dedication is to all those people who have dreamed of a dawn without foreign domination and who have fought for the day when men will simply be men. And one cannot argue with that sentiment.'

The Modern Novel

The Ultimate Tragedy serves in many ways as a sort of literary privilege-check, introducing histories as well as literary/linguistic styles rarely given space on an international platform. Published under Dedalus Books' new section Dedalus Africa, there’s hope that Sila's novel marks the start of a push to correct such disparities in representation.
Here is to hoping that future titles will be as enthralling as Ndani's story, whose resilience, perceptiveness, and unwavering commitment to autonomy will certainly glue your eyes to the page…

Jessie Stoolman in Asymptote Magazine

I absolutely loved this book. I’m so glad that it was translated because it gave me a great insight in to a country that I know very little about. It also didn’t hold back - this isn't a book written with a European or US publisher in mind - it’s rightly harshly critical of European colonial rule and the hypocrisy of white colonisers treating native black African people like the ignorant. There's love here, but also political commentary and, surprisingly, humour.
So, yes, go read this powerful insight in to Guinea-Bissau!

A Novel Haul

Abdulai Sila’s new book is a gift. It really is. African literature is spread across linguistic regions that are pretty much culturally cut off from each other. This means that the vast majority of interesting literary work coming out of the French-, Portuguese-, and Spanish-speaking parts of Africa never make their way to those of us who read mainly in English. That’s why we are beyond excited about Sila’s new book. It’s the first novel by an author from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English.
Books like these are important. They change the way we think and talk about African fiction. They refine our taste for African writing. The more we are exposed to different forms of African storytelling the more we appreciate the diversity in African literary forms.
The Ultimate Tragedy was originally published in 1995. It tells the story of an ill-fated girl named Ndani.After a medicine man reveals that her future will be a string of disasters, she tries to change the cause of her life by moving to the city. But of course, you already know that her attempt to escape her tragic fate will be way more complicated than she imagined.Intriguing plot!
Congrats to Sila and Dedalus Books for gifting the world of Anglophone literature with such a beautiful book.

Ainehi Edoro in Brittle Papers

'Mizzes, want houseboy?' is the first line in Abdulai Sila's The Ultimate Tragedy. It is an imploration delivered desperately in a flawed Portuguese by Ndani, a poor, illiterate teenage girl, who leaves her village in Guinea-Bissau to find work as a servant in the capital after a magic man declares she is cursed. Living amongst colonists and later, as the spurned wife of a village chief who wants to 'expel the whites', she eventually finds love with a local schoolteacher. The plot centres on Ndani's coming-of-age in multiple environs of subjugation. Mindful of the oral tradition that shape his prose, Sila evokes the creole language and its strained relationship with Portuguese, which is facilitated by the translator Jethro Soutar's dedication to maintaining context and sentiment.This bittersweet novel offers a snapshot of a country whose history is little known outside its own borders.

M.Rene Bradshaw in The Times Literary Supplement

The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Sila appeared in Portuguese in 1995, and is the first novel from Guinea Bissau to be translated into English. Its publication in an excellent translation by Jethro Soutar is therefore something of a cultural event. It is the affecting and vivid story of Ndani, who leaves her village to work as a maid for a Portuguese family in the city. Expelled after refusing the master’s advances, she starts to drift, then marries a village chief. Cultural differences take hold against a tumultuous political background.'

Thomas Tallon in The Tablet

Originally published in Portuguese in 1995, The Ultimate Tragedy by Abdulai Silá (tr. Jethro Soutar, pub. Dedalus) is the first novel from Guinea-Bissau to be translated into English. It begins with teenage Ndani becoming a housekeeper for a white family, then circles around her life and others’, including a village chief with ambitions to stand up to the local Portuguese administrator, and the black schoolteacher whom Ndani falls in love with. Silá’s principal characters each step into white society in various ways; the author examines the implications for them of doing so, and how colonial attitudes could be challenged and perpetuated at the same time. The prose is a joy to read.

David's Book World - Reading Across the Globe

The book is full of unjust twists and turns, as Abdulai tries to find a place for herself in a racist and painful world but slowly loses hope that her life will be anything but an unending tragedy.

Book Riot

RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 187

Publication date: 05.05.2017

Re-print date: 16.06.2023

ISBN numbers:
978 1 910213 54 4
978 1 910213 58 2

World English Language