This novel brings us back to the nineteenfifties in the harbourtown of Marseille, in the south of France. Diaw Falla has left his mother and siblings in Senegal and travelled to France, the colonial master. In the harbour of cosmopolitan Marseille he has odd day jobs to unload the ships that come in. It is hard work, and not just the work itself, but also the circumstances and the attitude of the bosses. This becomes clear during the days that Diaw becomes, by chance, the leader of a spontaneous strike in the harbour.
Diaw is a man in his early twenties, but he is well respected in the community, especially in the Wollof community. In his limited spare time he writes a novel about slavery. He travels to Paris to get his novel published, but is hard to find a publisher. In the end he meets a budding writer, her name is Ginette Tontisane. She will try to get the book published.
Diaw travels back to Marseille and his girlfriend Catherine Siadem. Catherine hopes to get married to Diaw once his book is published and there will be some money to start a family. She is pregnant. Her stepfather does not like her relationship with Diaw and he has a relative waiting for an opportunity to whisk Catherine away to the shores of marriage.
In Marseille he hears that a book has been published by Ginette Tontisane, on the topic of slavery. He finds out that she gets the praise for his novel. Immediately he travels by train to Paris and confronts her. He realises the chasm between the races, the difference between a thief and the victim. In the scuffle that follows Ginette falls and gets hurt on her head and she dies. In Marseille he is arrested and brought before the court in Paris.
In his early days the Senegalese wroter Ousmane was a dockworker in Marseille for a period of ten years. Here he did his first writing in the early fifties. He could not get a publisher and it took quite a few years before the black dockworker saw the light. Ousmane became an important writer and cineast.
In this book he traces the hardships of the dockworkers, the latent racism in the manyfold relations in the country. The life of this young man has been grounded and whose fault is it?
In his first and final letter from prison Diaw writes to his uncle about his situation. About his three years young son. About his almost-to-be wife Catherine, who walks the streets of Marseille. He also writes about the effects of time in prison: it does not kill your pain and it does not cure you.
Sembène Ousmane – Le docker noir – 1973 (privately published in 1956)