Thursday, April 3, 2014

Une vie de boy par Ferdinand Oyono

Finally, I buckled down and read something in French! And I actually have been meaning to read this book in particular for over a week.

To the best of my knowledge, it was written back in the 50s and is one of those many pieces of francophone literature that highlights the social and institutional problems initiated by colonialism. It's a book about the experience of a young, black African man who learns and lives harsh truths in both the upper class, white world of "la Residence" in an unnamed colony and the lower and/or peasant class that serves the white masters there.

Toundi, as a boy hitting puberty, fights with his father over his "gourmandise" (which represents his excessive aspirations), which repeatedly gets him into trouble. He feels disrespected enough that he actually runs away to a priest visiting the area, and he stubbornly refuses to go home, instead following the priest into a world that he hopes will be better, fuller, and richer, satisfying his metaphorical hunger.

After taking him back to a Catholic mission, the priest does teach him a lot, but even Toundi (who is devoted to the priest) can see that he wasn't paid or respected, though he waited on him hand and foot. When the priest dies, Toundi finds himself detesting mission life, so when he is offered the chance (or rather told) to be the "boy" (servant) for the local "commandant," a social and political leader of the colony, he readily accepts the position.

It doesn't seem like much of a position. Toundi enters yet another world of colonial intrigue, where things are not what they seem, and people can look beautiful but act cruelly. Time and time again he becomes disillusioned with the life of the white people which used to seem so exotic. He also becomes disillusioned with his own life. However, he never rebels. He's the perfect servant. And it comes back to bite him in the derrière.

The beginning of this book is a prologue about Toundi on his deathbed, so you know where the story is headed, but it's still moving, and the final few pages are hard to read. Especially since there is a (tiny) smidgen of hope in them. Hope that you know is misplaced. It's those damned naive aspirations, surfacing again!

This is a pretty good book and an easy read grammatically, so if you're a novice French reader, this would be a good novel for you to check out! Also, it's a francophone classic. You can't not read it!


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