Book Review: The Belly of the Atlantic

As the product of a union with a man from outside the village, Salie was never quite accepted in her close-knit village on the Senegalese island of Niodior. It was a trait she shared with Niodior, the village schoolteacher and football (soccer) coach, who eventually gave up hoping for a transfer elsewhere but never quite let go of a lost love. Niodior recognized and encouraged Salie’s interest in learning, a gift that allowed her to marry off the island and follow her husband to France. Salie’s marriage crumbled under the weight of her in-laws disapproval, a secret she kept from the village women who took a certain amount of delight in pointing out her shortcomings. Determined not to return home in disgrace, Salie makes a meager living stretch to cover her football obsessed brother’s needs. Madicke calls Salie when he wants to know how his favorite team scored while dropping hints about her paying for him to come to France to become a football player like his hero. Salie feels the immigrant’s pressure of family and friends to provide for them, the isolation of being an outsider at home and abroad while coming to accept her place in the wider world.

This disjointed story alternates between island activities and Madicke as they revolve around his football interests and Salie’s memories juxtaposed with her current problems. While demonstrating the balancing act immigrants frequently have to cope with, this fails to keep readers engaged with the frustrating characters. 

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