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Souls Forgotten

2008, author(s)-editor(s) Francis B. Nyamnjoh

One day, Mama Ngonsu told her son:

"Normally, a child grew up and stayed around to help his parents. The world has changed, and things are no longer as they used to be. Things must not be normal all the time, otherwise life would not be life." When Emmanuel Kwanga gets a University scholarship, he travels from the lake and hills of Abehema to the Great City. Everyone in the village has invested in him their hopes for the good life. When the life they’ve imagined is cut short by the University guillotine, Emmanuel Kwanga must struggle to make sense of what the good life means - for himself and for Abehema - in a world where things are no longer as they used to be.

This novel is about coming of age and coming to terms in Mimboland. It is also about the fragility of life and the strength of the human spirit. The filth and screaming splendor of the city and the perplexed tranquility of the village are juxtaposed, as the tension and conviviality between tradition and modernity are lived and explored. Roads and drivers, dreams and public transport link different geographies. Faltering along or speeding away, these spaces of risk, frustration and solidarity are filled with popular songs as vehicles for understanding events and relationships. With every crossing of the Pont de Maturité the story flows, and its mysteries surge. In this novel, the worlds of the living and the dead intermingle, as do the natural and the supernatural, the visible and the invisible.

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ISBN 9789956558124 | 360 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2008 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

6 Book Reviews

  • Book Review: Souls Forgotten by Francis B. Nyamnjoh. 26 May 2009 00:31, author(s)-editor(s) Alice Macdonald

    The prolific Cameroonian writer and academic Francis Nyamnjoh continues to delight his readers with the publication of his latest novel Souls Forgotten. Souls Forgotten is a bitter indictment of the political and social situation of many African countries. The novel is set in the fictional land of ‘Mimboland’, a linguistically divided nation presided over by none other than President Longstay and suffering from endemic corruption, failing public services and wild nepotism whose similarities with the author’s native Cameroon are hard to miss.

    The novel follows the path of Emmanuel, the apple of his villager parents’ eye whose hopes of social progression and riches are pinned on his academic achievements. Indeed as Nyamnjoh insightfully observes Emmanuel has the expectations of his entire home village resting on him as ‘one person’s child is only in the womb… from birth the child belongs to the entire community, to tend and harness for the good of all and sundry’. Emmanuel is thus emblematic of the many African youths who head to Yaounde, Dakar, Nairobi and other African capitals in search of fame and fortune to bring to themselves and their home village as the relentless pace of urbanisation continues across the continent.

    The author effectively captures the frustration and desperation that many young Africans face when they arrive in the supposed ‘cities of gold’ and have to face the ‘guillotine’ of exam results. These results, which determine the have and have-nots, are not determined by academic ability but rather by the insecurity of the lecturers who see these youths as potential rivals. Like the lives of these many youths Emmanuel’s path in life does not go smoothly as his transformation from optimistic youth to desolate dropout unfolds in front of us. Ironically it is in his journey back to the village he was so desperate to escape that Emmanuel finally comes of age finally demonstrating the strength of character and integrity that the city often sucks away.

    Competition is rife among the young and old as they strive to attain their share of the national ‘cake’. However, Emmanuel is not alone. Indeed it is the devotion and integrity of his girlfriend Patience, which provides one of the most touching images of the novel. Indeed Nyamnjoh’s characterisation is one of his strengths as his eloquent prose consistently forces the reader to reshape their opinions and prejudices throughout the course of the novel with the transformation of the apparently feckless Emmanuel into an unlikely hero.

    Parallel to Emmanuel’s urban adventures runs the tale of his home village of Abehema where black magic, power struggles and greed prove to be a lethal combination. Emmanuel’s decision to return to his village after prophetic dreams links the two narratives and leads us to the inaccessible inner regions, where governmental indifference and ruthless exploitation lead to unimaginable devastation.

    Nyamnjoh’s complex and rich interweaving of narratives is a further strength of the novel. He plays on African legend and traditional beliefs, often digressing into anecdotes and the supernatural, thus ensuring that the reader remains fully engrossed. Although the subject matter may seem depressing Nyamnjoh, as always, manages to inject the narrative with his humorous, satirical style. The author is a true analyst of African society never failing to use his literature to criticize and chastise the ruling classes in both Africa and abroad.

    This is a complex novel which avoids the usual clichés about Africa. Through the juxtaposition of peaceful pastorality and cold urbanity Nyamnjoh offers an insightful study of the conflicting demands of tradition and modernity forced on many Africans, particularly the young. The question of tradition and modernity and achieving a balance between the two touches upon a central issue in modern day Africa. However, Nyamnjoh does not merely pose questions but gives answers as to how we can best continue ‘the battle for change’ which, long and tiresome though it may be, demands a constant struggle. He is far from resigned to the depressing situation depicted in Souls Forgotten instead this novel is a testimony to the strength of solidarity. Ironically this message is delivered by Chief Ngain, the greedy and ruthless leader of Abehama, who brings the wrath of the ancestors onto his village, just as President Longstay’s prolonged insensitivity to the will of the people has brought untold suffering to the land of Mimbo. He tells the local chiefs, ‘if after my death you decide each to go his own way, you shall all perish as the pieces of wood you’ve just crushed…‘If you stay united, you shall be as firm as the bundle you couldn’t break.’ It is this ‘power of togetherness’ that lingers with the reader particularly through the close bonds between Patience and Emmanuel. In fact this is exactly the message the author leaves us with: that where institutions and the ruling classes fail it is up to Africans themselves – together - to take hold of their own destiny.

    *Alice Macdonald is a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

  • Souls Forgotten 23 June 2009 09:55, author(s)-editor(s) Nixon K. Takor (Mphil Research Student), ASC- University of (...)

    “Knitting Our Social Worries in One Story”: A Review of Francis B.Nyamnjoh’s Souls Forgotten

    Is Nyamnjoh a sociologist or novelist? This enquiry among others has lingered in the minds of many who happen to stumble on any of his works. Track him along any genre of scholarship, leave him with any academic trade mark, he in my opinion is just a social pedagogue who has the uphill task to film society as it is, query it to expose the invisible, at times visible but unspeakable and unthinkable facets of human society. Nyamnjoh does this in different ways depending on where his imagination intuits him. He has a piquant parcel of words which he situates in context to attract the widest audience in the social environment he sets out to examine. In the novel Souls Forgotten, Nyamnjoh’s approach is ‘infotainment’ where he informs his audience about the social issues inherent in a mythic state society called Mimboland, and at the same time tries to capture and sustain their attention through literary entertainment .

    Nyamnjoh’s Souls Forgotten, in my opinion is a contemporary genre of literary imagination where readers are taken into a mental trip passing through diverse but intriguing intellectual shops which translate social themes like tradition versus modernity, chieftaincy problems, university life, state corruption, administrative ineptitude, road usage and security measures, disaster causes and management, etc. He knits all these aspects skillfully without diverting the plot of the story that centers on the wild expectations and fate of the young and exuberant Mimbolander- Emmanuel Kwanga. Nyamnjoh exposes his thematic knitting approach in the novel when he says: […] the social and the geographical, the normal and the mysterious, the rational and the supernatural [are] blended together to form the marvelous mixture called life (p.26).

    In one short narrative technique, Nyamnjoh handles diverse themes affecting a fictional society which in my appreciation hinges on a background closest to his land of birth. Abehema can be the locality while Mimboland is the country. There are many reasons to think that the setting of the novel is Cameroon. If onomastics is any indication to go by, then, it is truism that names of persons (anthroponyms) like Kwanga, Ngonsu, Tam (especially) Tala Andre Marie and places (toponyms), like Nyamandem, Massajeng, Tunga Division, Zingraft town, Abehema can be quickly inferred and positioned in Cameroon. Complementing this is the linguistic cultural identity which is expressed in the novel as Muzungulandaise (something like the French language) and Tougalish (the English language) coupled with pidgin Tougalish (pidgin English).To think that Nyamnjoh’s social arrow is pointing aggressively only on Cameroon will mean demeaning the scope of his social scanner. There’s no gainsaying that his message like any academic endeavor is a case of something, at least the case of social and political life in Black Africa.

    What fascinates me with Nyamnjoh’s literary style is his deep imagination of the real themes that affect social life in his constructed Mimboland society. Without any intention to pretend to film and project the mind of the author, I will attempt to inter-lace and appreciate some of the major themes that animate his story line. My thought pattern will simply be personal and in no way should be associated with the views of the author which at best can only be appreciated by conjecturing.

    Chieftaincy enmeshes in superstition to produce one of the social-cum-political themes that the novel Souls Forgotten touches. Using the voice and/or imaginations of Kwanga, Nyamnjoh re-visits the chieftaincy issue which has been raised by scholars, publicly addressed in writing, though remaining bait for research. Here the author brings to the chessboard, the tension between traditional and modern administration which has been proven to be spurious as Terence Ranger’s ‘Invention of Tradition’ posits. This is justified by the comparison he makes between modern governing structures like the gendarmes and police force with traditional conflict regulatory institutions like the kwifon and nwerong in the Abehema community.

    Nyamnjoh does well to present the institutional value collision between tradition and modernity as a suspicious encounter but continues to maintain a background of African belief system where superstition and witchcraft occupy a central place in society. Much has been done to show the place of superstition in African social circles but its scientific simplification for a global anchorage to erase the difference in perception of what is western and African is perhaps underrated. Traditional practices like wizards and witches flying in the wind and destroying crops and roof tops, ‘nyongo’ where people live prosperously by sacrificing themselves or others in afterworlds, divination, the sasswood poison ordeal, leaves readers with a picture of a pristine Africa not distant from the corpus of Eurocentric tales on Africa as a ‘dark continent’. Such a conclusion is perhaps an indication that despite attempts at emulsifying the friction between modernity and tradition, Africanists’ still crusade the message of African distinctiveness which can only be pristine if interpreted from an etic position.

    Complementing the issue of chieftaincy and superstition is the politics of co-existence between traditional polities that accommodated themselves in traditional Abehama but who are no longer compelled to do that due to dissatisfaction with the policies of the centre. It runs in line with the oft quoted philosophy that ‘when the centre can no longer hold, things fall apart’. The wrangling and suspicion between chief Ngain and the other chiefs in the novel is a pointer to this view. It shows new levels of power competition where the ancient intractable issues of tribute and sovereignty is rendered somewhat different by the inevitable forces of change.

    Nyamnjoh in his social-knitting fashion links up the chieftaincy feat that had trapped the Abehema society and divided the society with vices like villainy and greed. Without giving room for his audience to follow such social backlashes to the level of contamination, he quickly exposes the fate of rulers like Chief Ndze of Tchang and Ngain of Abehema when he says: “Vice was no good, and that no leader, no matter his tact could eternally pester and prey upon his people with callous impunity”.

    This for certain confirms the view of the French philosopher Rousseau, that in a social contract when a ruler can no longer rule in the interest of his people, a revolution is right. The revolution could take any form like the abandonment that the Chief of Abehema experiences expressed, partly, in terms of bush paths that lead to the seat of political decisions in the village.

    Another important theme that the author fully captures is university life in Mimboland. Through Kwanga’s narrative, readers are dragged into a world of academics that intertwines other social problems. The University of Nyamandem that Kwanga describes goes beyond a milieu of universal knowledge acquisition. It bridges other relevant themes associated with the fragile relations between the state and university authorities with students. This is expressed in terms of infrastructural neglect, favoritism, political victimization and other social deviance like STMs (sexually transmitted marks) that accumulate and enrage students who go on the streets to challenge the state of affairs. Closely linked to the in-campus worries is the accommodation in the university residential area in Nyamandem which is projected as a bare-face sample of the excruciating problems of 21st century urbanization challenge. The squalor that has stubbornly survived urban reforms has exacerbated waste management and other accommodation problems like congestion and its correlates such as prostitution and robbery.

    The problem of integration equally attracts some related themes such as linguistic tension and imbalanced development. The linguistic tension that exists between speakers of Muzungulandaise and Tougalish is proof of the fact that in the political and social blend that took place in Mimboland, a state was created, yet national integration has not been fully attained. Language affiliation continues to influence politics and the way people relate and treat each other. This is shown in the different encounters that Kwanga has with people of the Muzungulandaise speaking expressions. An example of note is the law enforcement officer that intercepts him in the University of Asieyam campus. Closely linked to this is Kwanga’s enclaved locality of birth which at best is only made known to the public after the devastating lake Abehema disaster. The nightmarish journey that Kwanga describes from Zingraft town to Abehema is clear testimony of national politics of neglect and abandonment against certain parts of the country. This for certain is the stance of an unconcerned political center, governed by a sit-tight gerontocrat called President Long Stay in the novel.

    Journalistic frivolity and corruption go hand in glove in the type of society in which Kwanga finds himself. Remote controlled journalism or what is commonly called ngombo (reward seeking) journalism is the deviant communication ethics that whops the protagonist’ mind. News of the lake Abehema disaster that came four days late and which gave a death toll of 40 far below the real toll of about 2000 confirms the view that there is always a dent in what is revealed as official information. This is quite similar to the verdict of one time state authority (serving as Communication Minister) in a country in CEMAC Africa who reporting on the casualties of university strike in the capital city said, ‘il a eu zero mort à l’université’ when everyone knew about six students had been killed.

    Souls Forgotten captions this type of reporting as ‘arm-chair wait-and-see journalism of indifference’. Such distorted versions of social reality can be incendiary and may be one of the near causes of deepening social unrest. The tension over the cause of the lake Abehema disaster is perhaps one of the greatest attractions in the whole piece of work. The author carefully illustrates the tug-of-war that goes on between the traditional and the modern versions of the cause of the disaster. Suspicion and scorn, disbelief and disillusionment surround Kwanga’s mind concerning the disaster. His distrust for Ravageur and Vanunu only heightened this view.

    Was the lake Abehema saga, a staged event or a natural occurrence? Hypotheses are rife but the political atmosphere is still heavily frightening as to giving in room for a verdict from the human conscience.

    Everyone’s worldview [is] shaped by their particular experience of the society and circumstances into which they were born (p.234) so too is Nyamnjoh’s in Souls Forgotten. Souls Forgotten is a master piece. The diction is simple though some of the interjection in Pidgin English reduces his readership; most of the chapters are short for quick reading, though some are quite lengthy, posing a structural discordance. Suspense remains one of his main literary techniques which he uses to sustain attention while humor maintains the interest. His use of proverbs is superb for they widen the central moral messages but reduces the worded content of the novel.

    Nyamnjoh’s social tale is perhaps too hard on certain issues, not to say it is exaggerated. His message is dominated by gloom for the Abehema community and the people of Mimboland desperately seeking development and a share of the good life for which they have sacrificed body and soul. The university system in Asieyam is completely marred even when we know out of the chaotic system sound minds have been nurtured.

    This is not to say the system was good. Rather it was a system that constrained students to adapt to new coping strategies which at best were endurance and extreme hard work to be distinguished from a crowd of academic shoppers. Perhaps I am too generous to a system which Nyamnjoh indicts for limiting success only to a handful of supposedly hardworking, determined, intelligent, mostly urban-based students.

    Also, Nyamnjoh’s presentation of gloom lends very little space for the efforts by the international community and the reluctant government of Mimboland to come to the assistance of the victims of the Lake Abehema disaster, which is quite similar to the Lake Nyos gas disaster of August 21, 1986 in Cameroon.

    This is not to say the victims have been fully re-habilitated. Administrative bottlenecks couple with conscious bad faith, neglect and abandonment make the title Souls Forgotten, ideal. Nyamnjoh is consumed by gloom over the greed of those in power leaving little room for aid to trickle down to the victims who need it most. His imagination and literary savoir faire bring to the fore the natural and political challenges facing ordinary Africans trapped at the margins.

    Souls Forgotten is an irresistible read. My proposed sequel to this brilliant social message is: Hope for Souls Forgotten.

    By Nixon K. Takor (Mphil Research Student), ASC- University of Leiden
    Source: http://www.nyamnjoh.com

  •  Reviewed by George Esunge Fominyen

    It took Emmanuel Kwanga four years after dropping out of university to take control of his life and decide to set up an NGO to assist his community reeling in neglect, instead of griping about the fate of the rich and poor, the corrupt and the defenceless in his country Mimboland. Francis Nyamnjoh in Souls Forgotten (2008) used the subtlety of prose to tell Cameroonians in 355 pages what the U.S Ambassdor Janet Garvey said to them via a speech to the American Chamber of Commerce in Douala in June 2009 : it is time to take ownership of their destiny, their government, their community.

    From a ray of hope to the apotheosis of despair

    Souls Forgotten kicks off with a first person introduction to Emmanuel Kwanga, as he learns that he cannot continue at the university after failing again. The young man who travelled to the city of Nyamandem (read Yaounde) as the “light out of the tunnel” for his village Abehema, the first ever university student of his community, the one on whose shoulders lay the burden of bringing “Kwang” or the good things of life to his people, had failed.

    Emmanuel’s disappointment shatters his self-belief and destroys his willpower. He blames his failure on a corrupt system and academic cannibalism of lecturers who fail students so they do not attain the same levels as they. He is entrenched in pessimism and an “inclination to see his mishaps as intended consequences of conspiracies by the powerful against him and the downtrodden folks”(Pg 146).

    In a sense, Kwanga is an embodiment of what Cameroonians have become as their country stagnates democratically, corruption remains endemic and economic hardship heightens. A people who spend time on end complaining in cabs, bars and internet forums about what is not working in their country and asking others (people and countries) what they are doing to make things change.

    In her remarks to the American Chamber of Commerce in Cameroon, the U.S. Ambassador to Cameroon, Janet Garvey said, “too often, people coming to the Embassy ask us what we are doing to fight corruption, to build roads, to improve infrastructure and education. I will increasingly respond with a question of my own: What are you doing?”

    What is Emmanuel Kwanga doing about the fact that he is not going to school and is not employed? He sleeps, eats food prepared by his patient and hardworking girlfriend Patience who shelters him, goes off drinking in bars and refuses to work. He gets angry when Patience suggests he should apply for a receptionist position:

    “As I have said before as well, no work is work for me… unless by doing it I can satisfy the aspirations of my parents and people back home in the village. They have invested their subsistence in me all these years for me to content myself with half a loaf in the city! Nor did they send me out hunting to come back home with empty hands!” (pg 81)

    Troubling resignation 
    In developing Emmanuel’s character, Nyamnjoh drew from his years of observing Cameroonians to create a man who seems to have wasted all the gallons of hope that are poured into humans upon their creation. He (Emmanuel) is such a cynic that he cannot appreciate anything from an objective stand point.

    When he meets his old school-mates Pius and George who have had the opportunity of going to study in neighbouring Kuti (read Nigeria), Emmanuel without further investigation “saw the story as a confirmation of his disadvantaged situation, and of the injustices inherent in society. Here was a fellow student with an alternative solution to the problems caused by the University of Asieyam. Pius’ parents had the money, and that was why Pius was able to escape the academic hangman’s noose at Asieyam. How could the offspring of misery and poverty succeed in a civilization that has room only for the corrupt, for ill-gotten wealth, and for success narrowly defined around the individual purged of any relationship with others?” (Pg 119)

    Isn’t that a characteristic Cameroonian attitude in this ebbing first decade of the 21st century? A spirit of resignation and despair that troubles even a foreign diplomat:

    “Like everyone else in Cameroon, I was disappointed that the Indomitable Lions did not notch a victory in Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium last Sunday. But I was amazed to see how many people were ready to give up, to say that it is all over, that Cameroon is finished. There are still four games remaining, and Cameroon’s prospects are still very much alive. I am looking forward to the next match, with a spirit of “Yes, We Can!”, and I believe Cameroon should still be aiming to be a part of the World Cup next year in South Africa. I hope that Cameroonians—the players on the pitch and the supporters cheering them on—will adopt the same attitude, not just for football, but for all of the challenges that confront Cameroon today.”

    Isn’t Janet Garvey simply echoing the voice of Patience, Emmanuel’s girlfriend in Souls Forgotten: “should we cease living each time we cannot realise our big dreams”(Pg 82). To her there was little to be gained by lamenting over misfortunes, at least not the way Emmanuel did. She preferred a boyfriend who did not become undone by the tragic punctuations in life, someone who would not hesitate to do even the menial jobs of house boy, garbage man or truck pusher while plotting his next steps forward. (Pg 82)

    A few good men
    However, not all Mimbolanders are like Emmanuel Kwanga who remains jobless four years (as a stay home father) after his marriage to Patience instead of looking for a job to complement his wife’s meagre earnings (Pg 345). There are the notables of the village of Abehema led by Peaphweng Mukong, Emmanuel’s father. Hard working men who are ready to face the wrath of their chief by sticking to what is right. Mukong and the other elders die while carrying out a purification ritual at the lake Abehema after Chief Ngain had caused the death of Ardo Buba in this sacred place.

    Real life Cameroon is also full of such men (and women) of courage, dignity, determination, and passion to take their community’s destiny in their hands and Nyamnjoh must have seen them before writing Souls Forgotten. From the buyam-sellam at Mokolo market who funds the education of her five kids, through Kirette Couture popularising the "graffi fabric", via Amos Namanga Ngongi (a former UN Agency chieftain) to the 50 influential people listed by Jeune Afrique, Cameroon has the people to up-lift it from the throes of distress.

    Ambassador Garvey says, “Cameroonians have the ability to make their economy more diverse and less dependent on oil revenues. Cameroonians have the ability to orient the economy towards its neighbors, to protect it from the inevitable swings in the global economy and commodity prices. Cameroonians have the ability to demand that their budget be transparent and well-spent”

    And what else?
    There are many who would argue that Souls Forgotten has nothing do with all of the preceding. It may well be that it is recollection of a painful experience. In fact, the turpitudes of the Lake Nyos gas disaster that officially left 1700 dead in Cameroon’s North West region in 1986 dominates this story like a ghost at a graveyard. The similarities in dates, statistics and events between the Nyos catastrophe and the Lake Abehema disaster are too compelling to overshadow. Nyamnjoh even struggles in his attempt to hang a cloak of fiction to that sub-plot by setting his story in Mimboland with towns like Zingraftstown whereas the reader easily replaces them with Cameroon and Bamenda.

    The scarcity of the wry humour that fills Nyamnjoh’s works may be indicative of how deep he intended Souls Forgotten to be. It may also suggest that the novel is a shot at re-igniting debate on what really happened on that night of 21 August 1986 by a son of the region struck by such a calamity.

    Was it an experiment by western scientists like Ravageur and his partner Vanunu who were the first to alert the people of the catastrophe, as told in novel? Was it the handiwork of gods of the lake angered by a chief whose greed led him to cause the death of Ardo the Fulani chief who died in the lake thus desecrating the sacred place? Was it an eruption in this dormant lake that belched poisonous carbon dioxide as scientist argued? Why have they never settled on the actual cause of this natural disaster?

    Get a grip on yourselves!
    However compelling those aspects of Souls Forgotten may be, the final message is clearly that people must cease to despair and preferably take control of their future. It comes through resoundingly when Emmanuel announces to his wife that:

    “I have decided to give up on the state…It isn’t through problematic state structures that change shall see the light of day in Mimboland… if we wait for the government to change our lives, we shall have to wait forever. There is no hope in that direction.” (pg 353)

    “I have decided to start an NGO to do for my dead and alive what the government and Tchopbrokpot have failed to do with its Disaster Account” (Pg 354)

    There are many vile and corrupt citizens in Cameroon. The country’s democratic institutions are certainly less than perfect. Decades of economic crisis would only be compounded by the backlashes of global financial melt-down. But is resignation the solution?

    Francis Nyamnjoh who is certainly not an establishment author, seems to engineer change by guiding his character Emmanuel Kwanga, to realise that he has enormous potential to be helpful to his community regardless of the vicissitudes of life. Isn’t it same for Cameroon and Cameroonians?

    Source: www.gefominyen.com

  • Book Review: Souls Forgotten 9 October 2009 12:01, author(s)-editor(s) Tanja Estella Bosch

    This satirical portrayal of the fictional West African ’Mimboland’ begins with the anguished reflections of a rather stereotypical Emmanuel, experiencing an emotional breakdown of sorts after failing university exams. Acutely aware of the unrealistic expectations of his family and the rural villagers who pin all their hopes on his return, Emmanuel simultaneously navigates his way through a shaky relationship and the dirty, dangerous yet glamorous streets of the fast city.

    Ironically it is the mysterious demise of Emmanuel’s home village, Abehema, which releases him from the burden of breaking the news of his academic failures to his father and the rest of the village. An attempt by one of the elders or notables (Emmanuel’s father) to restore a sense of justice and order to the prevailing political system corrupted by the chief, guilty of embezzlement and possibly murder, spearheads the tragedy. Conflicting explanations raise the issues of scientific explanations (gas from a volcanic eruption) versus the prevailing belief in a system of magic and witchcraft (the chief harnessed supernatural forces to punish the village elders).

    Souls Forgotten is an excellent and compelling satirical portrayal of the underlying tensions between the modern and the traditional faced on the continent today. These dichotomies are a central thread and exist within the central characters themselves. Language is a key thread in the book, with the linguistic competencies of the characters in pidgin, French, or the local languages, often impacting centrally on their relations with others in the society, particularly in the city. Moreover, the chauvinistic central character is unemployed and expects his working girlfriend to arrive home in time to cook his favourite meal, yet later they seemingly find happiness in ‘true love’,marriage and children. The elders’ coup attempt to impose political and social justice is ultimately lost to the stronger power of magic and witchcraft. The forgotten souls, the victims of the supernatural disaster of Abehema, turn to the Western hospital in their desperation. The traditional ties of friendship, kinship and loyalty are temporarily abandoned as one man faces financial ruin with the death of his cattle.

    The tensions are constantand there is seemingly no absolution, though ultimately Emmanuel seems to find the balance between tradition and modernity through love and family; and more importantly in his new identity as political actor via the creation of an NGO which, it appears, will give his people agency and the hope of real change in a context fraught with nepotism and corruption, and the uncertainty of the power of the supernatural. Unfortunately though, it is only the Africa of Nyamnjoh’s novel, which has such a happy ending. Increasingly modernisation results in the growth of individualistic versus collectivist cultures, and Africans the continent over have yet to find ways to shift the centres of power.

    This is an engaging read from a well-established scholar who surprises with his competencies as both researcher/ academic and novelist. Nyamnjoh’s writing is intoxicating and entices the writer into the deep, dark and complex world of ‘Mimboland’ that the central characters in this, his 6th work of fiction, occupy.

    By Tanja Estella Bosch

    *Prof Nyamnjoh recently joined the Faculty of Humanities, Dept of Social Anthropology, UCT. This book is available in the Main Library at 828.9655NYAM.

    Source: http://blogs.uct.ac.za/blog/teblog

  • Chose promise, chose dûe : Note de Lecture Souls Forgotten de Francis B. Nyamnjoh 9 October 2009 18:33, author(s)-editor(s) Nathalie Gabiam

    D’abord je tiens à vous remercier pour l’honneur que vous m’avez fait par la dédicace de ce premier volume de SOULS FORGOTTEN. Comme je vous l’ai dit dans notre discussion, à mon avis, l’histoire de ce roman ne ressemble pas du tout à la trame de vos autres romans que j’ai pu lire. Il me paraît plus profond car le thème étudié porte à réfléchir sur le monde visible et le monde invisible. Sur la relation entre nos pères et nos ancêtres défunts et les préoccupations des villageois par rapport aux préoccupations des citadins. Le cadre est tellement bien décrit que parfois on se retrouve là-dedans ; les quartiers pauvres des villes avec leur misère et le manque d’infrastructures le plus élémentaire (pas d’eau courante, pas de toilettes), l’insalubrité et les gens qui se battent pour survivre.

    Le héros qui est arrivé de son village natal pour étudier à l’université et qui n’a pas réussi à dépasser la première année car ne pouvant pas s’intégrer aux mœurs de la ville, aux intrigues qui permettent de réussir à l’université, à savoir composer avec le gouvernement en place ou bien être largué, et qui finalement se retrouve sans diplôme et sans moyens de subsistance, pris en charge par une jeune fille inconnue qui a pitié de lui et le prend sous sa protection. Ce qui est plus grave, c’est qu’il n’a pas le courage d’annoncer son échec à ses parents au village, alors que tous les villageois avaient placé leur espoir en lui. Chaque villageois a contribué à sa manière à son éducation et ils attendent tous de récolter les fruits de l’arbre qu’ils ont tous arrosés. Et dans le village, il y a également une lutte de pouvoir entre le bien et le mal, le mal représenté par le chef du village qui se met au dessus de la loi et qui estime n’avoir pas à répondre de ses actes répréhensibles devant les autorités administratives et qui essaie par des menaces et des moyens occultes de gagner à sa cause les notables. Cette lutte qui se poursuit dans les ténèbres par des forces occultes qui s’opposent et qui représente à mon avis la réalité de la tradition dans les villages africains ; qui aboutit finalement à la victoire éphémère du bien sur le mal entraînant la mort en prison du chef.

    Je suis restée un peu sur ma faim car pour moi le roman est resté inachevé. Qu’est-ce qui s’est réellement passé et qui a entraîné la mort inexpliquée de tous ces villageois ? Que représente ce fameux lac autour duquel tournent le bien et le mal ? Quel est le rôle joué par les blancs dans ce désastre ? Plusieurs questions restées sans réponses et que j’aurai été curieuse de connaître.

    J’ai été frappée par les questions existentielles posées par les différents acteurs, notamment lorsqu’il est souligné que l’enfant n’appartient à ses parents naturels que lorsqu’il est dans le ventre de sa mère, mais une fois qu’il naît, il devient l’enfant de tout le monde. L’amour véritable entre le héros et l’héroïne qui part à la recherche de son amour pour le ramener au bercail. C’est touchant et cela ne fait que souligner le caractère matériel et calculateur de l’Amour qui existe de nos jours. Bref, j’ai trouvé le roman très bien et si c’est possible de le faire traduire en français, je suis sûre qu’il sera un succès. Je me pose la question de savoir si vous n’envisagez pas de faire une suite à cette histoire. A mon avis ce serait bon de savoir si ce sont les forces du mal appelées à la rescousse par le chef du village qui ont entrainé cette épidémie ou bien ce sont des problèmes naturels, est-ce que l’amour des deux protagonistes sera toujours aussi fort ou bien les vicissitudes de la vie vont le dégrader, est-ce que la ville aura raison des principes de notre héros qui va à son tour succomber et faire allégeance au gouvernement.

    En tout cas toutes mes félicitations pour la profondeur du roman.

    Par Nathalie Gabiam

    Source: http://www.nyamnjoh.com

  • Souls Forgotten 6 November 2012 06:45, author(s)-editor(s) Tanja Estella Bosch |

    This satirical portrayal of the fictional West African ’Mimboland’ begins with the anguished reflections of a rather stereotypical Emmanuel, experiencing an emotional breakdown of sorts after failing university exams. Acutely aware of the unrealistic expectations of his family and the rural villagers who pin all their hopes on his return, Emmanuel simultaneously navigates his way through a shaky relationship and the dirty, dangerous yet glamorous streets of the fast city.

    Ironically it is the mysterious demise of Emmanuel’s home village, Abehema, which releases him from the burden of breaking the news of his academic failures to his father and the rest of the village. An attempt by one of the elders or notables (Emmanuel’s father) to restore a sense of justice and order to the prevailing political system corrupted by the chief, guilty of embezzlement and possibly murder, spearheads the tragedy. Conflicting explanations raise the issues of scientific explanations (gas from a volcanic eruption) versus the prevailing belief in a system of magic and witchcraft (the chief harnessed supernatural forces to punish the village elders).

    Souls Forgotten is an excellent and compelling satirical portrayal of the underlying tensions between the modern and the traditional faced on the continent today. These dichotomies are a central thread and exist within the central characters themselves. Language is a key thread in the book, with the linguistic competencies of the characters in pidgin, French, or the local languages, often impacting centrally on their relations with others in the society, particularly in the city. Moreover, the chauvinistic central character is unemployed and expects his working girlfriend to arrive home in time to cook his favourite meal, yet later they seemingly find happiness in ‘true love’,marriage and children. The elders’ coup attempt to impose political and social justice is ultimately lost to the stronger power of magic and witchcraft. The forgotten souls, the victims of the supernatural disaster of Abehema, turn to the Western hospital in their desperation. The traditional ties of friendship, kinship and loyalty are temporarily abandoned as one man faces financial ruin with the death of his cattle.

    The tensions are constantand there is seemingly no absolution, though ultimately Emmanuel seems to find the balance between tradition and modernity through love and family; and more importantly in his new identity as political actor via the creation of an NGO which, it appears, will give his people agency and the hope of real change in a context fraught with nepotism and corruption, and the uncertainty of the power of the supernatural. Unfortunately though, it is only the Africa of Nyamnjoh’s novel, which has such a happy ending. Increasingly modernisation results in the growth of individualistic versus collectivist cultures, and Africans the continent over have yet to find ways to shift the centres of power.

    This is an engaging read from a well-established scholar who surprises with his competencies as both researcher/ academic and novelist. Nyamnjoh’s writing is intoxicating and entices the writer into the deep, dark and complex world of ‘Mimboland’ that the central characters in this, his 6th work of fiction, occupy.

    *Prof Nyamnjoh recently joined the Faculty of Humanities, Dept of Social Anthropology, UCT. This book is available in the Main Library at 828.9655NYAM.