Africa Reading Challenge review: The Beggars’ Strike, by Aminata Sow Fall

While in the Gambia, I picked up several slim volumes of African literature; the first was The Beggars’ Strike, by Senegalese writer Aminata Sow Fall.  My thoughts:

light little satire of class dynamics and superstition

Mour Diaye, the Director of the Department of Public Health and Hygiene, clears the streets of his unnamed African capital of beggars. In return, he hopes to be promoted to vice-president of the nation. To ensure his appointment, he consults a marabout – a Muslim holy man (according to the book’s glossary) – who instructs him to offer a sacrifice to the beggars in their customary locations. But the beggars are all gone!

La Grève Des Bàttu was originally published in French in 1979. In this English translation (from Dorothy Blair) of the little novella, the author pokes fun at government bureaucrats, at superstition, and at hypocrisy of many sorts. The tone is playful and mocking; and the book is a fun, light read.

But the whole plot hangs on one magical assumption which never really worked for me: throughout, the beggars have significant leverage in that all kinds of powerful people are required by their marabouts to give sacrifices to beggars. So when the beggars go on strike, the people have to come and find them. Yet it doesn’t ring true, either in fact or as a plausible suspension of disbelief. While it is entertaining to see long lines of fancy cars pulling up to the home where the beggars have holed up, coughing up the wealthy to make their required offerings, the flight of fancy doesn’t feel quite airworthy.

If you come across this book and want to enjoy some mild satire, I recommend it: I encountered it in a little bookshop in Banjul, the Gambia, and at 99 pages, I figured I had little to lose. But I wouldn’t seek it out. It was made into a film (entitled Bàttu) in the year 2000 [amazingly not available at Blockbuster!], directed by Malian filmmaker Cheick Oumar Sissoko.

If you want satire, I’ve just started Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow (2006): nothing mild there! And if you want another short but compelling example of Senegalese literature, I recently enjoyed Mariama Ba’s So Long a Letter (1981), which explores the travails of women in Senegal’s polygamous society.


71 thoughts on “Africa Reading Challenge review: The Beggars’ Strike, by Aminata Sow Fall”

  1. Wizard of the Crow is sitting in my tbr pile next to my bed, and has been for probably about a year…I’ll keep an eye out for your thoughts and will hopefully tackle it soon!

  2. Considering that I have lived on The Continent all my life, it’s a shame that I haven’t read a single book by a Gambian writer. Thank you for the review. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the book.

    Wizard of the Crow … I’m not enjoying it as much as I thought. It was supposed to be my first Africa Reading Challenge review, but I’m laboring through it like a quantum physics textbook.

    1. I think the very best they have as writer across the nation is NGUGI WA TIANGU.. So Long A Letter. It transfixed me

  3. Tumwijuke: Note that even though I picked up The Beggars’ Strike in the Gambia, the author is Senegalese. I have one or two books by Gambian writers but have yet to read one. Coming soon, I hope!

    Yes, the beginning of WotC seems great but I’ve heard it loses steam. No shame in dropping a book!

      Ihave never come accross a novel that clearly depicts the attitude of a typical african society elites, like the beggars strike.

  4. i am a student,it is a wonderful book which teaches the rich that we are all equal not matter what is our situation in life.

  5. Hi,
    please i need urgent help on my project topic IRONY OF FATE IN AMINATA SOWE FALL “BEGGAR’S STRIKE”.
    Will be very happy if anyone can help me with relevant materials to aid me in writing my final year project.

    Thanks alot!!!!!!!!.

    1. There is irony in the fact that the main politician is initially rewarded by harming the beggars but then is unable to receive further rewards without the help of the beggars. Those who need us are those who we then need.

      1. Hi, saw your reply and was happy at least someone shows concern but am afraid i still need more reviews and articles in writing my literature reviews.
        Thanks a lot.

  6. Hi,please i urgently needs help on writing my literature reviews on this topic IRONY OF FATE IN THE BEGGARS STRIKE BY AMINATA SOW FALL.
    Please can someone help me ?????!!!!!!

  7. please i urgently need help on writing on discussing the general setting of the beggar’s strike in relation to the writer’s handling of the theme.

    1. What you asked for is of utmost importaance to most students of African literature. pls read the book very well

  8. sir the book has really tells us africa background, however sir i want to know the theme of oppression in the novel

  9. wonderful book,the author has passed across a nice message, it means that at one point in our life wether rich or poor, there is always a time when need a shoulder to lean on.

  10. I just love the book, it;s wonderful.. it teach us to be kind to each other, and the same time make us to understand that the poor are also vital in our locality.

    1. Yeah this novel made us to understand that rich people need poor people to archieved their aims.

  11. It was really inspired me on how the growth of African literature goes beyond any expectation and educating!Hurray Aminata sowe fall!keep it up!

  12. The book it was really nice and educating,it is a book when read it ,i do experiance many things that is contemporary in our living environment or to society.

  13. the book is compelling as it shows the hypocrisy of our leaders and there insensitivity to the plight of the common man. thumps up for aminata sow fall

    1. i appreciate saw fall for her display of intellectuality in the novel. It will intrest you to known that after my reading i got to know that is not enough to rich even the poor are needed too. Tnx.

  14. This is a good literary work of art which everyone should read…teaching us that people in the society are important. Don’t look down on anyone.

  15. can you please send me the summary of the novel along with its themes, style of narration and characterization.

  16. i jst read d txt & i neva regret reading it clse 2 my examination.Sowfall made it simple & direct 4 even a primary school reader 2 undastnd.

  17. can u please tell me, the dramatic irony, symbolism, diction, mood/tone. of beggars strike.

  18. i really enjoy the book and i truely believe that the book tells the real lives of selfish people…

  19. Please can help me to get more about this work and questions and answere about it, I am a NOV/DEC, GCE Candidate

  20. Beggers’ strik is an intrerting novel, it was introduced to us in my year one university and until date i still have intrest in reading it.

  21. beggars strik is such a nice work dat satarises d way injustice wer meted on d beggars. In as much it mindblowing, i jst cnt ce reality in dis work bt just mockry.

  22. i find this book very intresting, i can’t stay a week without glancing through it. it was introduce to me during my final year in college. i love it, i love Aminata sow fall.

    1. Please can some one help me with chapter by chapter summary of The Beggar’s strike by Aminata sow fall, please any one?

  23. pls i need the theme of the book…..the begger’s strike……..and if possible the charisma……pls send it to my email…..thanks antispating

  24. This is one among the best novels that I read in my life. it is true problems and subjugation that are common in all over the African countries. There is discrimination and injustice in education, employment and even in day to day activities.

  25. hi pls help me where to find the copy of the book “the begger’e strike” pls pls. I’m in around KwaZulu Natal

  26. As a teacher of English and literature in English in the Gambia between the late 90s and early 2000s, I enjoyed teaching the Aminata Sow Fall’s “The Beggars’ Strike” to my young students. Having lived in that region for 7 years, I and my students easily related well to the culture behind the book. Thinking back now as an anthropologist, the meaning of the book within the culture where the story is set shines even brighter.

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