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Scarlet Song Summary

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This book is engaging from the
outset, and deceptively simple. It
takes us into the world of a
young Sengalese student,
Ousmane Gueye, the son of a
devout Muslim. Ousmane is more
devoted to his mother, Yahe
Khady, than to religion or
tradition. The first chapters use
the framing device of
Ousmane’s walk to the
university to tell his backstory,
how he helped his mother and
developed a thirst for
knowledge, which was only
strengthened after he was
snubbed by his flirtatious
childhood friend Ouleymatou.
Ousmane becomes an academic
success, determined to get out
of his poor working class
district on the outskirts of
Dakar. So we are introduced to
Ousmane as a disciplined young
intellectual, respectful to his
family and background, but
eager to use his education to
make something out of himself.
When the narrative catches up
to itself Ousmane, whose
progress is based on his self-
discipline and rejection of
romance, makes the
acquaintance of Mireille, a white
teenager who comes to school
in a limosine, the daughter of a
French diplomat. Over time, in a
well-told story, they fall in love.
This romance seems to answer
Ousmane’s ambition, as he is
respectful and reticent, only
succumbing to Mireille when he
discovers she loves him. After a
brief idyll, Mireille’s father, a
liberal politician, discovers the
relationship, which is abhorrent
to him and shows his hypocrisy.
He puts Mireille on the first plane
back to Paris, and it seems at
this point as if the novel is
going to be the story of
thwarted interracial lovers.
Mireille returns to Paris in time
to take part in the student
demonstrations of 1968, and
Ousmane participates in student
unrest back in Dakar, a brief
section of the story that actually
goes a long way to grounding
the characters and showing us
the nature of their
consciousness and political
commitment, especially Mireille;
she seems authentic to her time
through this section, identifiable
as...