Excerpt from Fisherman's Blues by Anna Badkhen, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Fisherman's Blues

A West African Community at Sea

by Anna Badkhen

Fisherman's Blues by Anna Badkhen X
Fisherman's Blues by Anna Badkhen
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 304 pages

    Paperback:
    Mar 2019, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Natalie Vaynberg
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Fishermen also say that they heard from their grandfathers who heard from their own grandfathers that the sea and the fish in it move through cycles that are far longer than the lunar months that chart the annual patterns of wind and waves and underwater migration—and, because the scope of their periodicity exceeds the memory of any man alive at any given time, are unknowable.

All these explanations are true, fishermen say, because the ocean has not one surface but multitudes, and each contains myriad realities that change all the time, delivering silver heaps of fish or combing the nets empty, recasting its own liminality infinitely, in an infinity of limitless iterations.

The Sakhari Souaré pilots these shifting tides. She is thirty feet long with a three-foot beam, very narrow at the hip. She has seven holds, six thwarts, no belowdecks, no deck. She is six years old and runs on a fifteen-horsepower twostroke outboard Yamaha motor that one of her crew hoists over his shoulder to take home each time she returns to port. She is flagged to Joal, Senegal's largest artisanal fishing port, a four-mile-long dune spit at the southern tip of the Petite Côte, just north of the fourteenth parallel. Her lifesaver is a car tire. She is a plank boat made shell-first on a keel of a single, scooped redwood trunk. That keel is a proto-pirogue, an echo of the Paleolithic canoes man the world over once gouged out of whole trees to go to sea.

Her hull below the waterline is brown, her gunwales are a scuffed red, her thwarts and ceiling once were white. Her topside is a psychedelic peacock's tail of green and yellow and red on a white field. Her nylon gillnet is half a mile long. Its sloppy accordion folds overflow the net hold, hover above it like froth. One end of the net lolls out, a gauzy pale green tongue that drapes the length of the boat just inside the port gunwale: this end will go in the water first. The net quivers in the westerly wind. Yellow styrofoam floats dangle from the swags. When you haul net hand over hand, you grab just below the floats and watch for fish in the mesh.

Now the pirogue stitches away from shore, a tiny wooden needle, her wake a fine embroidery on a surface that the morning sun has smoothed bluegreen and placid like blown glass. But the surface is depthless, an enormity of unknowns. It reflects the sky, just as enormous. It betrays nothing.

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Excerpted from Fisherman's Blues by Anna Badkhen. Published by arrangement with Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2018 by Anna Badkhen.

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