A persuasive, even gripping study of a spiteful, naïve character, from Cameroonian writer Beti (1932-2001).
Though written in the third person, we spend an uncomfortable length of time listening to the grinding logic of protagonist Banda’s grudges. Banda (no last name) is from the village of Bamila. His father is dead, his mother dying. Banda travels to the nearby city of Tanga to sell a year’s worth of cacao to the Greeks. Set in the 1930s, it appears as if Greeks control the colonial economy. While this may be the case, we see the world from Banda’s perspective and receive Banda’s version of events. Coming from a part of the country that requires he pay a future father-in-law for his daughter, he cannot marry without money, and he cannot bear to disappoint his mother, to fail yet again. When the sale does not go as expected, Banda begins to ruminate, to plot. Banda meets Odilia, a young woman from another part of the country, at a bar. Odilia needs help; her brother Koumé is in serious trouble with the colonials. Whether Banda’s decision to help Odilia and Koumé reflects his better judgment is debatable. The book’s conclusion is unexpected and amounts to a failure of Beti’s—not Banda’s—nerve. The book includes “Romancing Africa,” one of Beti’s many essays, and a useful introduction by translator Higginson; while recognizing the book’s historical importance, he equivocates about its quality.
“A strange destiny: to always suffer.” This book explores that truism from a singular, compelling perspective.