Read African Writers: La Bastarda, by Trifonia Melibea Obono

bastardaequatorial guinea“Don’t forget that your mother is dead, your father is a scoundrel, and you’re a bastarda.” Trifonia Melibea Obono’s La Bastarda is the first novel by a woman from Equatorial Guinea to be translated into English. If that weren’t enough to get you to read it, how about knowing that it’s been banned in the author’s home country? And if you want more, how about that it’s good?! (And short, coming in at just over one hundred pages.)

Okomo’s mother died in childbirth, and she’s never met her father. This places her on the outskirts on her ethnic group, the Fang. Over the course of the book, she encounters other people at the margins, particularly the local, outcast gay community. When one character asks how she, as a lesbian, fits into Fang culture, an uncle tells her, “There isn’t a word for it. It’s like you don’t exist.” Okomo’s journey takes her far beyond the borders of her village and explores what it means to carve out a place for yourself as an orphan and as a gay person in one African society. The prose is simple, appropriate to the adolescent narrator, and Lawrence Schimel’s translation into English is clear. Historian Abosede George has a nice afterword, putting the book into context.

You can read more about the book here, and you can read about the author here. You can read an excerpt here, but come on, the book is just 100 pages: Go ahead and read it already.

This is book #10 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.

Here are some notable passages:
  • On early marriage: “Dina is on the brink of old age—she is eighteen years old and has no husband!”
  • On the universal truth of parties: “That’s when I discovered the worst part of parties: cleaning up.”
  • On non-sexual intimacy: “We spent some time in silence, letting our bodies talk.”
  • How not to open a letter asking your daughter for money: “Daughter, Your marriage is the biggest mistake you’ve made in your whole life.”
  • On a traditional healer: “After bankrupting her, the curandera sent her to the hospital.”
  • On youth: “Your opinion doesn’t count; your elders are always right.”
  • On the metal ceiling: In that makeshift town, I discovered that the better-paying jobs were all held by men. Women were limited to cleaning and cooking. And also: prostitution.”
Here is what other people thought of the book:
  • Publishers Weekly: “Slim yet undeniably potent… Obono’s voice is assured and vital, and her tale of queer rebellion in Fang society is an exceptional take on the coming-of-age novel.”
  • Karina Szczurek, Africa in Words: “Obono’s writing itself is an act of inspiration and should be celebrated as such. Her narrator tells the story in a fresh, mesmerising voice. Its haunting quality adds to the irresistibility of this slim book and its considerable impact.”
  • Silvia Cruz Lapeña, Altair: “Escuchar la voz de una ecuatoguineana lesbiana es el principal valor de La bastarda porque entre los suyos, los fang, entorno del que procede la autora, ni siquiera hay una palabra para referirse a ellas… Otra de las fuerzas de esta novela radica en que se carga en pocas páginas la imagen de mujer sumisa que se da de las africanas.”

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