Dietch’s (Yaounde Univ./Private Law) novel explores the plight of an embittered African man whose parents commit suicide after discovering that four of their five children are gay.
Jean-Noel, the youngest son of five siblings, leaves his native African village to become a tour guide in order to escape the tragedy of his family. His three brothers left home to live in Europe, initially breaking the hearts of their parents, who are further shocked to learn that all three of them are gay. When it’s also revealed that their daughter is having an affair with a powerful woman, Jean-Noel’s parents kill themselves, as they’re unable to face the village’s condemnation. Jean-Noel blames his siblings’ sexual orientation on the global media, believing homosexuality to be an “imported” phenomenon. He attempts to start a family of his own only to discover that he’s infertile. When Rocky, a Los Angeles–based screenwriter, comes to the country for a vacation and enlists Jean-Noel’s services, the young African man is forced to confront his deepest rage: will he be able to move beyond the difficulties of his early years and lead a happy life, or will he take his anger toward the mainstream media out on Rocky? This book is a chronicle of deeply buried resentment and misunderstanding, unapologetic in its depiction of anti-gay sentiment and blind hate. Its numerous derogatory references to gays place the characters in a light that many readers will find solidly ignorant. However, Jean-Noel’s own struggles with infertility and his later role as a beloved “uncle” to another man’s triplets create a genuinely engaging dynamic and a compelling lead character. Why do people cling to hatred, the book seems to ask, when love often surrounds them in abundance? Dietch’s prose style is frequently cliché-ridden and clunky (“he bustled and bustled again, trying his utmost to reach his lover’s most inner genital cavity”), and the lack of more worldly, experienced viewpoint characters can make the principal players’ homophobia difficult to take. However, the novel’s exploration of small-town prejudice, along with its soap-opera–like structure of tragedy and ultimate redemption, is intriguingly original.
A family story unlike any other that unsparingly excavates the pain of small minds and inflexible traditions.