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The War You Don’t Hate

by Blaise Ndala; Dimitri Nasrallah (trans.)

Blaise Ndala (Pascale Castonguay)

When two former rebel soldiers return to the Great Lakes region of Africa after the Second Congo War, their mission for truth takes on new meaning when they cross paths with a Canadian filmmaker who has found media success amid the devastating carnage. Trauma porn and the exploitation of lives, bodies, and events, take centre stage in The War You Don’t Hate.

Ottawa-based Blaise Ndala’s second novel (originally published in French as Sans capote ni kalachnikov in 2017, and winner of Combat national des livres in 2019) has now been translated into English by Dimitri Nasrallah.

The novel opens in 2002, as Montreal filmmaker Véronique Quesnel makes her way to the stage to accept an Oscar for her documentary on an African woman who was sex trafficked. Sona, Véronique’s subject, is also there, seated among Hollywood celebrities, strangers – trapped in a world she does not want to be in, or ask to be a part of.

Véronique coerces Sona to join her on stage – with no way to refuse in that very public moment, Sona complies. As Véronique delivers her oblivious show of gratitude for her subject’s story, Sona’s entire existence is laid bare for the world to see, and Google, and judge. Sona breaks down on stage, bringing into relief the ongoing exploitation of her pain and trauma.

In a parallel storyline, Master Corporal Red Ant and his cousin, Baby Che, are back in their old stomping grounds, in the Great Lakes Region of Africa. Their world and their lives in Democratic Republic of the Congo – largely related through Red Ant’s voice – are clearly presented as they work to retrace and understand what happened during one of the most horrific conflicts of their time (the war lasted for five years at the turn of the 21st century). Ndala takes great care in setting up these two characters and their relationship with each other. Despite their pasts and their pain, the two men are humanized by their brotherhood. Vulnerabilities that contrast with the hard exterior shells they present, and the lingering effects of traumatic experiences they have endured, make the young soldiers sympathetic.

It’s when their paths cross with the Canadian filmmaker’s that the story begins to take a turn, as the parallel stories inevitably braid together. As the former rebel soldiers search for truth, they are called on to unpack the enduring effects of exploitation for reward and profit on those who suffer trauma.

The juxtaposition is stark right from the beginning. The lavish, excessive lifestyle of the Hollywood elite (into which the filmmaker is willingly thrust – and her subject is dragged) is in striking contrast to the scenes Ndala paints of the two cousins in Congo. Accolades and awards collide with corruption and secrecy. While seemingly so different, these worlds are eerily similar.

“After the two women climb out of the limousine at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Véronique helps Sona select her second outfit for the next round of celebrations in an evening filled with glitz and glamour. During the car ride, it had to be explained to the young African that it was out of the question to wear the same Versace dress to the Kodak Theatre and the party on Hollywood Boulevard.”

The narrative shifts from Hollywood to Africa and elsewhere with ease. Ndala uses truth telling and humour to link these different worlds. The reader is immersed in the belly of the beast with writing rich in tone, subtlety, and cultural nuances.

“Later, my cousin who inherited from his father the art and manner of storytelling, at times able to make you sleep standing up, at times able to make you fall to the ground laughing, telling tales sometimes true, sometimes born out of an imagination more fertile than the lands of Rwenzori, confessed to me his two dreams.”

Ndala crafts three deeply developed characters and skilfully intertwines their lives. The attention to detail helps this story feel true to life – at times almost unbearably so. The War You Don’t Hate will leave readers deep in thought and wanting more.


Reviewer: Wanda Taylor

Publisher: Esplanade Books/Véhicule Press


Price: $22.95

Page Count: 400 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-55065-655-8

Released: April

Issue Date: May 2024

Categories: Fiction: Novels, Reviews