Godʼs Bits of Wood

Title: God’s Bits of Wood by Ousmane Sembène

Author: Ousmane Sembène
Published: 1960
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Length: Not available


God’s Bits of Wood, published in 1960, is a remarkable historical fiction novel written by Ousmane Sembène that sheds light on the struggles of Senegalese railway workers during the 1947-1948 strikes against the colonial French administration. This epic tale captures the resilience and unity of African workers as they fight for better working conditions and their rights as equal human beings. Through Sembène’s vivid storytelling and portrayal of various characters, the novel provides a realistic account of the historical events and explores various themes, including labor relations, colonialism, identity, and the power of collectivism.

The story is divided into three parts, each highlighting different aspects of the struggle and showcasing a diverse range of characters.

Part I:
The first part introduces the various railway workers and their families who live in Thiès, Dakar, and Bamako. The narrative focuses on the central character, Ibrahima Bakayoko, often referred to as Bakayoko the Strike Leader. Bakayoko’s determination to organize the workers and unite them against the oppressive working conditions becomes the backbone of the strikes. However, the initial attempts at organizing are met with resistance from fellow workers, who fear losing their jobs or facing retaliation from the French administration. Despite these challenges, Bakayoko’s unwavering perseverance gradually gathers support, and the workers start preparing for a strike.

Part II:
Part II delves into the intensifying strike and its impact. The strikes spread across different regions, disrupting the railway services and causing inconvenience for the French administration. Here, we are introduced to other significant characters such as N’Deye Touti, a fiery woman who emerges as a remarkable leader, Ramatoulaye, who plays a crucial role in organizing the women’s solidarity movements, and Deune, an older man who represents the traditional African values amidst the changing social dynamics. Together, these characters bring depth to the narrative and represent the diverse perspectives that shape the resistance movement.

As the strike gathers momentum, the French administration tries to suppress it through force, employing tactics such as harassment, violence, and even employing mercenaries. Despite this, the strikers remain steadfast, reinforcing their determination to attain better rights and justice. Alongside the central strike, the novel also highlights the exploitation of local African women by French officials, addressing themes of gender inequality and the added burden faced by women during the struggle for social change.

Part III:
In the final part, the novel explores the aftermath of the strike and the eventual success of the workers. The strike takes a toll on the lives of the characters, causing pain, loss, and sacrifice. However, the collective resistance helps break barriers and ultimately forces the French administration to listen to their demands. The novel emphasizes the significance of unity, courage, and sacrifice in the face of adversity, conveying the message that collective action can bring about meaningful change.

Throughout the book, Sembène skillfully weaves together the personal stories of the characters with the broader historical and political context, providing a holistic understanding of the challenges faced by the Senegalese people during the era of colonization. The vivid descriptions of the day-to-day struggles, emotional turmoil, and strength of the characters make the historical events and the themes explored in the novel come to life for the readers.

In conclusion, God’s Bits of Wood is a profound and impactful novel that not only chronicles the historical strikes of Senegalese railway workers but also serves as a powerful testament to the unwavering spirit of human resilience, identity, and the fight against oppression. Ousmane Sembène’s masterful storytelling and well-drawn characters make this novel a must-read for anyone seeking insights into the complexities of social change, the effects of colonialism, and the power of collective action.