Lieve Joris

Mali Blues and Other Stories

In the essay Een kamer in Cairo (A Room in Cairo) that she published some years ago, Lieve Joris explained her difficulty in finding the right form in which to put her travel experiences on paper. The liberating moment came when she realised, partly through meeting such travel authors as Naipaul and Kapuściński, that she must distance herself from the journalistic motto of objectivity. Precisely by presenting herself as a Westerner, she elevates her travel pieces above mere journalism.

In Mali Blues she travels from Senegal via Mauretania to Mali. She gives a portrait of the peoples she encounters. In their will to survive they have learned to adapt to constants such as poverty and rebellion. ‘At home they sometimes ask me if I am lonely when I travel, or afraid. How can you be lonely or frightened in a country where you are picked out of the crowd after just three days by someone who has taken the trouble to remember your name?’ she writes in her notes on Senegal in the story ‘Amadou’, named after a 34-year-old man from the rural hamlet of Podor, who is able to conjure up pictures on his TV with his aerial, when the rest of the village can get nothing but snow on the screen. She becomes so close to him that he tells her about the death of his pregnant wife (as a result of poor hospital care). He dreams of buying a decoder, so that he can receive Canal Plus.

The main character in the title story is the Malinese blues singer Boubacar Traoré (alias Kar Kar). At first the fifty-year-old singer is reticent about answering the questions that Joris asks him about his life, but 140 pages later he has revealed his innermost soul. Through her personal approach and style Joris is able to penetrate to the heart of a people.

Her stories owe their quality to the writer’s willingness to take risks: there is no distance with her. In Mali Blues she reaches a delicate emotional level that travel literature rarely reaches.

Hans Keller, Vrij Nederland

In Mali Blues, Joris again shows where her great strength as a travel writer lies.

Nell Westerlaken, de Volkskrant

Lieve Joris must have magic powers. In book after book she succeeds in penetrating to the very heart of people and the countries they live in.

Jos Borré, De Morgen

She has expanded the boundaries of travel writing.

H. Kennedy, Times Literary Supplement


Lieve Joris

Lieve Joris (b. 1953), who was born in Belgium and lives in Amsterdam, is one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers. She has written an award-winning book on Hungary, De melancholieke revolutie (The Melancholy Revolution, 1990), and has published widely acclaimed reports of her journeys in the…

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Mali Blues en andere verhalen (1996). Non-fiction, 312 pages.
Copies sold: 25,000



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