b. 1955, Côte d'Ivoire
novelist, poet, and short story writer
A contemporary of Véronique Tadjo , the Ivorian writer Regina Yaou prefers the novel, although poetry was her initial attempt at writing, and her name first caught public attention with the publication of a short story, La Citadine (The Urban Woman), which won the first prize in a competition sponsored by Nouvelles Éditions Africaines in 1977. Her work deals with modern-day concerns, especially the status of traditional customs, family, and marriage in a modern-day setting, and often revolves around the lives of female protagonists. However, Yaou's treatment of these themes is unusual when compared with other Ivorian writers who are interested in the same issues. For instance, Yaou's countryman Amon d'Aby has treated the theme of sorcery in some of his writing, as Yaou also does. However, whereas he denounces sorcery as fraudulent, Yaou takes it seriously, as is evident in her novel Aihui Anka (Aihui Anka) (1988). Regarding polygyny and men's extra-marital relationships, Yaou's stance seems, to an extent, to echo Mariama Bâ 's claim in So Long a Letter that there is a "polygamous instinct" in the male of the species. However, while Bâ's novel proceeds to demonstrate women's collusion in the oppressive institutions that mar male/female relationships, Yaou seems to allow for no such problematizing of marital relations or men's abandonment of women. For example, in her first novel, Lézou Marie, ou les écueils de la vie (Lezou Marie or the Vicissitudes of Life) (1982), all the villains seem to be men and all the angels are women.
One of the strengths of Yaou's writing is her gift for creating sympathetic characters plagued with a fatal flaw. In Lézou Marie, for example, Marie's penchant for luxury contributes to her final downfall, while Anka's intransigence in Aihui Anka leads to a similar end. In her novels, Yaou also offers an interesting study of the difficulties of adjusting to different milieus, whether her characters are moving from a rural to an urban setting or vice versa. In addition, her novels offer fascinating depictions of culture and customs-burial customs among the Alladians of the Côte d'Ivoire, matrilineal inheritance practice, and African foods, to mention only a few.
Early accused of neglecting the larger themes in African literature, Yaou responded that since literature is a means of communication, it can fairly be used to communicate any subject, and that her work appeals to the young and older generations because they recognize themselves in her characters. The themes that Yaou's work treats are not trivial; rather, she is interested in simple social acts with enormous consequences. For example, in La Révolte d'Affiba (Affiba's Revolt) (1985) the practice of depriving a widow of the couple's possessions at the husband's death contributes to the impoverishment of women and children. In this sense, the focus of Yaou's work on the problems of everyday life complements the larger political and social concerns of leading African writers.
WANGAR WA NYATETŨ-WAIGWA