Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Houseboy by Ferdinand

Cameroonian fiction

Original title – Une vie de boy

Translator – John Reed

My second 1956 club read take me too Cameroon and one of the first modern African writers . Ferdinand Oyono was educated in France and whilst studying in Paris he took to write his first two novels. This is one of them. He then became a start of stage and television. Then he was a diplomat representing Cameroon at the common market as it was then and was an ambassador he lead a full life and this was written in his twenties.It was published in 1966 as part of the African writer series although it is one of the earliest written books in the series having come out ten years earlier.

Everything I am I owe to Father Gilbert. He is my benefactor and I am very fond of him. He is cheerful and pleasent and when I was small he treated me like a pet animal he loved to pull my ears and all the time i have been getting an education he has loved to watch my constant amazement at everything

He had a strong bond to the father who sadly died before he was a man.

The book starts with the main character in the book Toundia Cameroonain Houseboy. He is found half dying in Spanish Guniea. This is a framing device as with him are discovered two exercise books and this is what the book is made of the diaries of this young boy. This is a tough story of a young boys life he has a violent father so he decides to run of and is taken under the wing of the local Catholic priest Father Gilbert who becomes a second father to the young boy but then in a bike crash the father is killed so the young boy is left to fend for himself. He is eventually taken in by the local Commandant for the region as a Houseboy in the house as his wife arrives from France to run the house all seems great as she is a kind warm characater but when her husband has to go away for months with her job she turns and everything the servents around the house is wrong as he sees the true face of the Europeans which till then he had looked up to and admired.

She tried to whistle but soon ran out of breath and fell silent. The noise of the bottle smashing on the cement floor brought a sharp “Damm”! She called me to clear up the mess. It was one of the bottles of preparation she puts on her face at night. Pieces of broken glass had gone under the bed. I knelt down and probing under the bed with the broom brought out not only the broken glass but also some little rubber bags. There were two of them. Madame heard the sound of sweeping stop and looked round. When saw me turning the little rubber bags over and over with the end of the broom she sprang on me and tried to push them under the bed with her. Instead she trod on one of them and a little liquid squirted out of it on the floor

The discover of these means she has had another man in her bed !!

This has the hallmarks of a lot of the early modern African fiction that came about as the countries where finding the feet it has the change of view in many people of the European former rulers of the countries in this case this is encapsulated in the character of the Madame the wife of the commandant but the behaviour of those others like the lover she has the head of the local prison leaving the young boy with a problem as he has seen this. It has the disillusionment of the young man his hope to be considered worth more with in the house leaves him with the choice that lead to the start of the book as the tale goes full circle. It capture the colonial situation in the view of one houseboy that could be seen as a wider view of the many a young man at that time. This is another reason why many more people should read the African writer series books they need be promoted more.

October 2020


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