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Monday, August 31, 1998 Published at 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK

World: Africa

Where virgins and heroes eat foutou

By Barnaby Phillips

The dashing heroes and virtuous virgins of romantic paperback fiction are as popular in Africa as anywhere else in the world.

But until now, African readers have had to be content with stories set in a culture very different from their own.

In the last few months, that has started to change, with a new series of indigenous love stories selling fast from the bookshops of Abidjan, the biggest city in the Ivory Coast.

These are romantic novels with a difference. The collection, published by Nouvelles Editions Ivoiriennes in Abidjan, is entitled Adoras, and aims to provide African fans of romantic literature with a setting a little closer to home.

"We saw that the Ivorian public, both female and male, loves romantic literature, they really devour these stories, which all come from the west," explains Méliane Boguifo, the series editor.

"So we set out to try and fill a void, and create romantic novels set in Africa with African characters."

The authors are all from the Ivory Coast. The lead characters have Ivorean names like Ismael Touré or Myriam Soumahoro; they live in Abidjan; they eat Ivorean dishes like "foutou" and "attieké" and they dance to Ivorean music.

African themes

But according to Mrs Boguifo, the African character of the books goes deeper than the local settings. The novels also reflect specifically African concerns.

"In Europe, arranged marriages are almost unheard of - here, young girls are taken out of school to be married," says Mrs Boguifo.

"There's also the problem of female circumcision, and young people having to look after the welfare of a big extended family."

Mrs Boguifo says the intention has been to make the stories relevant to Africa - an idea which seems to have paid off. In the three months since the first six titles were launched, almost 40,000 copies have been sold, this in a country where buying books is an expensive luxury and where almost half the population is illiterate.

The publishers now plan to expand sales to other French-speaking African countries. The Adoras books will soon be on sale in Senegal and Benin, with perhaps Togo and Cameroon to follow.

The publishers are also looking for authors in other African countries, hoping that they too will be able to capture exactly what makes lovers tick in their societies.

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