I Was an Elephant Salesman

I Was an Elephant Salesman

Adventures between Dakar, Paris, and Milan
Pap Khouma, edited by Oreste Pivetta, translated by Rebecca Hopkins
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 08/29/2010
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-253-35522-5
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A landmark bestseller in Italy, I Was an Elephant Salesman gives a name and a face to the thousands of anonymous African street vendors in cities across Europe. Through the voice of a thinly veiled first-person narrator, Pap Khouma offers us a chilling, intimate, and often ironic glimpse into the life of an illegal immigrant. Khouma invents a life for himself as an itinerant trader of carved elephants, small ivories, and other "African" trinkets, struggling to maintain courage and dignity in the face of despair and humiliation. Constantly on the run from the authorities, he finds insight into the vicissitudes of law and politics, the constraints of citizenship, national borders, skin color, and the often paralyzing difficulties of obtaining basic human needs. His story reveals a contemporary Europe struggling to come to terms with its multiracial, multireligious, and multicultural identity.

Author Bio

Pap Khouma is author of Nonno Dio e gli spiriti danzanti [Grandfather god and the dancing spirits] and founding editor of El Ghibli, an online journal of migrant literature.

Rebecca Hopkins teaches English and writing at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University in Bologna, Italy.

Graziella Parati is Professor of Italian at Dartmouth College. She is author of Migration Italy.


“A chilling, intimate, and often ironic glimpse into the life of an illegal immigrant struggling to maintain courage and dignity in the face of despair and humiliation.”

“Rais[es] questions about youth culture, identity, and migrancy.”
 — Jeanne Garane, University of South Carolina

“One of the first and most influential autobiographical [immigrant] narratives published in Europe.”
 — Alessandra Di Maio, University of California, Los Angeles

“This autobiographical novel is a treasure, a narrative of courage, optimism, and resilience. . . . Khouma gives his audience much food for thought. January/February 2011”
 — ForeWord Reviews

“[T]he sly humor of its first-person narrator...gives this cultural critique the fast-paced charm of a road novel. March-April 2011”
 — World Literature in Review

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Table of Contents

Translator's Preface
Introduction by Graziella Parati

The Market in Abidjan
Street-Smart... Beach-Smart
Italian Money
Paolo il Nero
Girls from Senegal
Police... Just Joking!
Germany via Paris
A Month in Paris
The Foreign Legion
From Paris to Riccione
The Car-House
Double Malaw
Chief Laman
A Senegalese Lunch
A Dresser in Piacenza
The End of Ma
Milanese Chronicles
A Run on the Beach
Dakar via Moscow
Life in Senegal
A Tourist in Rome
To Catch a Thief
Fights in the Metro
Political Accusations