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.

Segu by Maryse Conde

Segu by Maryse Conde

Guadeloupean fiction

Original title – Ségou: Les murailles de terre 

Translator – Barbara Bray

Source – Personal copy

I said in my Nobel post the other day that Maryse Conde was the favorite for this year’s prize. She is still there as I checked before this post. Maryse Conde was born into a large family and was the youngest in her family by a number of years she started to write at 12. She studied at the Sorbonne. In the sixties, she taught in Guinea, Ghana(where she was deported for her political opinions and the Senegal. Then she taught in France after the sucsess if this book in the 80’s she starts to teach in the US and Universities in France. So as with other years, I like to add a writer from the betting list that I haven’t read I have had this on my tbr a while ago.

Dousika was a nobelman or Yerwolo, a member of the royal council a personal friend of the king and the father of ten legitmate, sons, ruling as fa or patriach over five famlies, his own and those of his younger brothers. His compound reflected his standing in the Segu society. Its tall facade overlooking the street was ornamented with sculptures as well as triangluar patterns carved into clay, and surrounded by turrets of varying heights and pleasing effect

Dosuika is a man of standing at the start of the book.

The book is set in the kingdon of Segu in 1797 which was a kingdom in the 18th and 19th century in what is now Mali we follow the family history of this time through the life and family of the most trusted advisor of the kings family Dousika Rearore, but he is seeing changes as the kingdom has more and more Islamic people appear but he falls out of favour as others in the palace seek to disgrace himhe dies young and we follow the story through his four sons. As the four sons he had set forth the oldest Tiekoro coverts to Islam is expelled from Tibuktu where he was studying like his father has children with different women one of which commits suicide. His life is full of up and downs like his brother and his two half brothers as we see te family move from the home across the globe.

In the countryside he came upon his host and a stout magnificently dressed man with a turban and the complextion of a moor. He greeted them briefly and was just going into his room when Abi Zayd sprang up in front of him and told him without waiting to be asked “Abbas Ibrahim is a scholar from Marrakesh who teaches at the university. He’s written several books about Metaphysics,Its a great honor, his coming to see us asking to marry my sister.

Tiekoro broke out in a cold sweat , for El-Hadj Baba Abopu’s four elder daughters were married already

Which one he asked

Abi Zayd hopped from one foot to the other

Ayisha he said mockingly

Here we see Dousika son and the evidence of Segu being more Islamic than earlier.

This a great saga of one family that in a way even thou written a couple of centuries ago is still relevant now with the growth of Islam still in parts of Africa the event her can mirror events still. The book cover family strife arguments racisim crimes and violence this is a saga of a tale vibrant colourful and in a large part based on the latter years of the Bambara kingdom through one man and his descendants. I will be reading more of Conde work see is from the West indies but spent time in West Africa due to her first husband being West African. Have you read any books by her ? would she be a good Nobel winner on the strength of this book and the sheer volume of books she has written I would think so. We will have to wait to Thursday to see if she wins !

Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga


Cockroaches by Scholastique Mukasonga

Rwandan Memoir

Original title –  Inyenzi ou les cafards

Translator – Jordan stump

Source – Personal copy

Mukasonga grew up in rwanda as part of the smaller Tutsi tribe, she luckily left and went to live in France before the 94 genocide that in its wake killed 27 of her family member that were unable to escape. This is the first of a triolgy of autobiographical works the other two being Barefoot woman and L’lguifou . her first novel which followed these three books Out lady of the Nile won one of the biggest French language African Lit prizes the Ahmadou Kourouma prize and also a number of french book prizes.

The first Pogroms against the tutsi broke out on All saints ‘ day , 1959. The machinery of the genocide had been all set into motion. it would never stop.until the final soultion it would never stop

Needless to say , the anti-tutsi violence didn’t spare Butare province.I was three years old and that first images of terror were etched into my memory.i remember

The stark reality of the world she grew up in from her first memory .Also note the day the catholic church had a part in this in a small way !!


The book follows Her life from the early 1950’s her childhood and is told in vignettes through the years. Far from being an ideal childhood , as is the case with genocide the undercurrent of the problems have been there since the start of her life when even as a three-year old she saw violence . The thing we also see is her fathers drive to have his kids learn ,which as we see later on is a reason that Scholastique herself managed to get away from her homeland.We see the first stepping up as the family have to move of their good land on to poor land the echoes here are so much to the Jews being moved in Nazis era. They are moved as the Hutus wave machetes , this also remind me of those horrific picture of people having limbs hacked of by these machetes and having to struggle on with their lives. This is an insight into her family the opening lines touched me where she mentioned family members “For all those of Nyamata who are named in this book and the many more who are not ,

for the few who have the sorrow of surviving.

For a long time I had no news of my parents , my brother, my sisters who’d stayed behind in Nyamata. Writing them was out of the question. Letters from Burundi were considered suspicous and could cause their addresses serious trouble. I kept an ear out for rumors and news from Rwanda. I urgently questioned anyone who’d dared to go there. Not until Andre was in Senegal could he get a letter through to our parents to them of our new lives. Evidently mail from West Africa wasn’t thought to be dangerous

I was reminded of my old Bosnian friend that was unable to speak to his mother , I’d feel so grateful at times .


Some books are testaments to a time and need to be read to understand a time and the history. I was reminded of the opening of world at war where we follow a camera through the village of Ordour-Sur-Glane the french village where the was a brutal massacre and the village was left as ut was destroyed at the end of the war as a testament . this book about the Tutsi genocide is another work that needs to be read. Those horrific scenes on the news at the time are long gone but as this book shows the wounds are still there not just the physical ones the mental ones this is a prelude to the violence but also like the build up to the world war two the undercurrents to this conflict can be seen in the early years of Scholastique life . The conflict grew after independence with the events of april , may and june 94 being the  explosive and brutal end that saw maybe a million people killed in two months . So this book need s sit along the works of writers Like Elie Wisel or Primo Levi as those touched and saw the violence in their time. So this is the story of one of those cockroaches as the Hutu called the Tutsi in that time .


May 2021


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