“Striding the night”: uniting

In Oakland, California, the sun doesn’t shine for everyone. Especially not for seventeen-year-old Kiara, who hasn’t finished high school and has to support herself.

Her father, a former Black Panther activist, died of illness after a stint in prison. Her mother, guilty of criminal negligence after the death three years earlier of her baby — Kiara’s little sister — is interned in a halfway house.

During their mother’s absence, the narrator ofWalk the nightthe first novel by the young American Leila Mottley, lives alone with her older brother, Marcus, who is unemployed and devotes all his time to a dream that will allow him, he believes, to save them all: to find success. as a rap singer.

Faced with poverty, late rents and threats of eviction from the apartment where her family has lived for twenty years at Regal-Hi, Kiara resists as best she can and takes care of everything. She even takes care of Trevor, the nine-year-old son of a drug-addicted neighbour, whose absences are getting longer and longer.

Only one possibility seems to be offered to this little mother to pay the bills: to sell her body. This is how Kiara will feel obliged to accept, one evening, the proposal of a man she met in a bar, losing his virginity without qualms. Did she really have a choice? That’s what she wonders as she walks through the night in Oakland, with her high heels and her only dress, looking for customers. “It’s nothing but a body,” she would say to herself.

While her brother asks her for a new reprieve, her uncle, their only family, refuses to help them and Kiara is silently in love with her best friend, her world crumbles even further.

For her greatest misfortune, the black teenager will quickly fall into the clutches of a group of white police officers, who will exploit her on their behalf by making her odiously blackmail. Until her story surfaced and the courts finally took an interest.

Astonishing maturity

Leila Mottley, born in Oakland in 2002, was just 18 when this novel was published. Walk the night has had some success in the United States and is currently on the first selection of the Booker Prize 2022. The author was inspired by a sordid news item from 2015, involving members of the police of Oakland and several other San Francisco Bay Area police departments suspected of sexually exploiting a minor and then trying to cover up the case.

Despite her young age, the primo-novelist demonstrates an astonishing maturity, as much because of the subject she has chosen as by her writing, magnified at times by a real poetic gaze.

But Walk the night does not entirely avoid the pitfall of Manichaeism. It may also be a little too smooth. And too long — as more and more American novels have become nowadays. Impressive beginnings.

Walk the night

★★★ 1/2

Leila Mottley Translated from English (United States) by Pauline Loquin, Albin Michel, Paris, 2022, 416 pages

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“Striding the night”: uniting