by Louis-Philippe Dalembert
Sabine Wespieser, 284 p., € 21
When Emmett hums in the halls of his school Alabama Blues, a protest song written in 1965 during one of the hardest periods of segregation, its teacher thinks it is “A song too heavy for a child”. It was however one of the favorite blues of his father, a father who abandoned them, his mother and him, and whose absence weighed all his life.
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If Emmett is indeed a fictional character, the Haitian writer Louis-Philippe Dalembert drew on several sources of dramatic topicality – of which this striking novel will be widely echoed – to imagine the life of his hero, who shattered on the illusions of the American dream. Named after this 14-year-old black teenager tortured and murdered in 1955 by whites, Emmett would end up suffocated under the knee of a white policeman, “The air of nothing, as we do with the sheep of Eid” like Eric Garner in 2014 then George Floyd in 2020 …
Portrait by small touches
The story begins with this assassination in front of a small supermarket run by a Pakistani. Suspecting Emmett of giving him a fake ticket, he calls 911. “I should never have dialed that bloody number”, will he say to himself during those sleepless nights when he hears screaming until despair? ” I can not breath anymore “…
Then, going back in time, Louis-Philippe Dalembert gives a voice to each of the people who knew, liked or disliked Emmett. The portrait of this shy and proud boy, the only son of a tender mother, born and raised in Franklin Heights, a black ghetto in Milwaukee (Wisconsin), then emerges in small touches, light or heavy, “One of the most segregated cities in the United States”.
There is his teacher, of whom this rather sad pupil was the favorite; his childhood friends Authie and Stokely, nice cerberists who protected him from the world, Nancy, his white fiancée with whom he failed to live a beautiful mixed love; Larry, his sports coach who trained this “Mountain of 1.92 m, 110 kilos of muscles” gifted for football, even fatal injuries; My Robinson, a former prison warden who became a pastor and who will organize, after Emmett’s funeral, the great march for equality as a cry of hope and fraternity launched in the face of the world …
Fight against all forms of racism
With this choral novel which will leave Emmett withdrawn in his silence, Louis-Philippe Dalembert surveys the path taken by his compatriots of letters in the fight against all forms of racism. Like the Cuban poet Nicolas Guillen and his Elegy to Emmett Till, which Ma Robinson quotes in her sermon, this “Black child, murdered and lonely, who had thrown a rose of love in the footsteps of a white girl”.