While politicians argue over a response to climate change, writer Anna Badkhen takes a different approach. The lives of fishermen may not seem like an obvious choice, but their daily struggles and triumphs illuminate a certain truth at the heart of these issues. No polemical treatise, Badkhen’s “Fisherman’s Blues” offers a critical take through subtle and beautiful methods of storytelling. It creates a remarkable snapshot of lives we’d otherwise never know.
Badkhen, a former war reporter and investigative journalist, concentrates on so-called “developing world” locations, spotlighting people not typically noticed by people in the Western world.
“Fisherman’s Blues” takes her to Senegal, where she lives in a coastal fishing town. The world of Senegalese fishermen is almost wholly masculine. While she writes about the way of life, she focuses on one fisherman, Ndongo Souaré, the captain who has taken Anna under his wing. Married to three women — with whom he has multiple children — he struggles to support his families and continually postpones his dream of owning his own boat.
While he’s a cellphone and GPS adapter, Souaré also believes in the voodoo charms of gris-gris and adheres to traditional methods of artisanal fishing, passed down from one generation to the next. Suspended between cultures, Souaré and his fellow fishermen are grounded by a love of life on the water.
Badkhen’s lyrical prose swells as she describes the pastoral beauty of life at sea. “ ‘The sea is never pregnant,’ a Wolof proverb goes: You can never predict when it will deliver. You can never predict what it will take, either. To live off the sea is to submit to its vagaries, to endure constantly the tension between desire and defeat.”
Here, she confronts the delicate balance of a community that may not exist past the next generation because of commercial overfishing.
At no point does she investigate the corporate efforts that impede upon the livelihood of her subjects. This decision to focus entirely on one angle of a community commits her to the gritty truth of these endangered lives, threatened by greed and profit. Developing trust with subjects and truthfully rendering their life stories with great elegance, she achieves a level of poetic political action.
Badkhen introduces us to the men and women who navigate cultural and environmental shifts that we can no longer ignore if we hope to maintain any sense of ecological harmony.
Lauren LeBlanc is an independent book editor and writer, as well as a senior editor at Guernica magazine. A native of New Orleans, she lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter at @lequincampe.
By: Anna Badkhen.
Publisher: Riverhead Books, 287 pages, $27.