How often do writers incorporate bits (or many bits) of their life in their books? It seems that the Belgian writer Cottenjé (1933 – 2006) did put the familiar in the fiction. She was trained as a nurse, got married, worked on a voluntary basis in Congo (in the colonial days of Belgium) in the province of Kivu. During the days of independence the family (including the children) decided to return to Belgium.

Carla the main character in this “Diary of Carla” is a trained nurse, who works as a nurse in Belgian Congo, after she gets married to another colonial in the province of Kivu, she leaves her job and on a voluntary basis treats people in her new neighbourhood, at a lake. During the early days of independence Carla and the children (and a bit later her husband as well) flee the country.

Reading this book you get a glimpse of colonial life (and the different attitudes among the Belgians, building an existence in a new world), about the work of the nurse, her contacts with Congolese people, living in a remote place with her husband Wim and her children.

But most of all this book is about the independence of a woman, not the independence of a nation. She loves her husband Wim very much, and she does not want to leave him, nor does she want to be left by him. But, her capacity for love (or better: physical contact with other men) she cannot limit to her husband. She has a strong longing for independence, to chart her own course, to have extra-marital affairs. In this way she is a bit the odd-woman-out. But this does not make her conform to the accepted standards of society. This situation continues in Belgium. Her husband is a straightfortward man, who is in love with Carla, very much so. But can he withstand the pressurre that is building? Will he be able to be the shoulder Carla’s needs after her affairs or will he withdraw his shoulder?

Mireille Cottenjé – Dagboek van Carla – 1968

Mireille Cottenjé in 1982

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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