The Fire Within
Original title: Le feu du milieu
I was overwhelmed by the joyful richness this novel offers on so many different levels, from everyday life in Comoros to the exuberant fantasy that draws on diverse traditions, such as the djinn of cosmological Indian legend, Soufi mysticism and African animalism. It’s a book that bears witness to a meeting between Chinua Achebe, Salman Rushdie, Emmanuel Dongala and Elif Shafak. —Marie Desmeures, editor Le Bruit du monde
The Comoros Islands: a place of history and fable, and a world of spirituality to discover. The Fire Within is a singular novel of initiation, which tilts into Arabian Nights-like wonder.
When the servant-girl Gaillard encounters Halima, daughter of one of the masters of the village of Itsandra while out collecting wood, little can she imagine the consequences their meeting will bring.
Halima has run away from home, trying to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her, and, though Gaillard is unable to help her, the connection they develop is powerful. Before returning to carry out her father’s wishes, Halima gives Gaillard a magical object to hold onto.
Ten years later, Halima returns. In the meantime, Gaillard has grown. She has been taught how to read and interpret the Koran by her master, and has been introduced to the legends of her ancestors thanks to her adoptive mother.
As the women’s paths cross once again, the object Halima left to her begins to reveal its secrets, taking Gaillard on a journey beyond time, self and memory to a place of spiritual enlightenment and a greater understanding of her place in the world.
Set on the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean, The Fire Within is a novel of self-discovery, spiritual yearning and how the bonds we form with those we love transcend time and space.
Written in lucid, delicate and poetic prose, Gaillard’s story blends a precise and sensitive understanding of the specific culture in which she lives, with a dreamlike magic of fable and fantasy, recalling tales such as those of A Thousand and One Nights.
The author’s first novel Vert cru (Raw Green), published by the Comorian publisher KomEdit and distributed by Harmattan in France, was well-received.
It was a finalist for the Prix Senghor for a Francophone First Novel, the Prix Éthiophile and the Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire. It also received a special mention at the Prix du Livre Insulaire at the Salon d’Ouessant.