Africa. The Dark Continent. The realm mystery and romance for European writers from the time of "Dr. Livingston I presume" to the African Queen and Raiders Of The Lost Ark and home to the Great White Hunter and the loyal black porters. A land of mysterious impenetrable jungles and wide expanses of hostile plains filled with man eating beast lurking under every tree waiting to devour the innocent blonde maiden and missionaries tied to a stake for the cannibal stew pot.
These and other images have been the backdrops for plots ranging from searching for lost gold to stories of a human raised by the great apes. Our view of Africa and her people has long been coloured by purple prose and the white man's burden, with "Bawana" always having to play father to his childlike native servants, who just can't keep a stiff upper lip and fall apart during a crises.
Either that or our heads are filled with the images of recent history. The post-colonial tribal hatreds, the famines, the tin-pot dictators that come and go, and of course the pandemic of AIDS. Surely there has to be more to the people and the continent than this rather limited and pejorative view. The trouble is trying to find any writings about Africa that aren't written about either politics or, to steal from the Irish, "troubles".
Well one such antidote has been supplied by French writer Francois Devenne. Although born in France and a European, he exhibited a fascination for Africa from an early age and wrote his student thesis on the geography and agriculture of the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. He moved to Kenya, where he worked the French Institute of African Studies. It was during his time working in Kenya that he wrote his first novel; a novel about an Africa that few of us know anything about.
Three Dreams On Mount Meru is the story of the path we all travel to adulthood, but told within the framework of two cultures that are just staring to merge. Bayu, the youngest male in a clan renowned for their abilities as carvers and craftsmen in wood, is both African and Muslim. So while the message of the prophet is still law and sacred to him, the belief in magic and respect for the spirit world of dreams is still strong in his people.
His clan made their fortunes when his ancestor from eight generations back obeyed a dream he had as a child in his efforts to rebuild a mosque. If we were talking about Native Americans we would be talking about animal guides and vision quests in reference to the dream in question, for the ancestor was led to his revelation by a leopard, and even in Bayu's day the leopard remains a figure of mystique and power.