The ten young writers from Cameroon and Nigeria showcased in the bilingual anthology out with Bakwa Books, Your Feet Will Lead You Where your Heart Is (Le Crépuscule des âmes sœurs), edited by Dzekashu Macviban & Nfor E. Njinyoh, give an absorbing and entertaining kaleidoscopic snapshot of contemporary African life seen through the lens of empathy. A landmark publication, this motley collection offers readers a powerful range of storytelling from fantasy to existentialism and afrojujuism to realism.
Edited by the founder of Bakwa Books, Dzekashu Macviban, and poet and translator, Nfor E. Njinyoh, the collection is the end result of a literary translation workshop held in Cameroon in 2019 in collaboration with the University of Bristol, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
The Power of Collective Action
A vast, fascinating continent rich in history and stories, Africa and its Anglophone fiction by local writers is becoming an increasingly prominent fixture on the British-American literary landscape. Publishers such as Cassava Republic, Jacana Media, Gadsden Publishing, Ama Books, Huza Press, Mukuki Na Noyota, and many others whose titles are available via The African Collective, are making waves as they showcase different energies, techniques, disruption and radical storytelling talent.
African creative writing in translation is less prominent, however, which Your Feet Will Lead You Where your Heart Is goes some way in redressing. Each workshop participant was mentored by an established writer to polish their stories: Babila Mutia, Yewande Omotoso and Billy Kahora for the English-speaking writers; and Edwige Dro, Florian Ngimbis and Marcus Boni Teiga for the French-speaking writers.
As described in the Introduction, the translation workshop was led by award-winning translators Ros Schwartz, Edwige Dro, and Georgina Collins. Literary translation theory and strategies within an African and Cameroon-specific context were discussed, and the participants worked collaboratively on prose, poetry, and dialogue/orality, at a relaxed pace. The week culminated in a Literary Translation Matters public conference at the Muna Foundation in Yaoundé.
“S/he who does not know one thing knows another” (African proverb)
Ignorant of literature from that part of the world, as opposed to writers of the diaspora, the only novelists I have come across from the Cameroon are Caine Prize finalist Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti, and Léonora Miano winner of the Prix Femina in 2013 for La Saison de l’ombre (Season of the Shadow, published by Seagull Books).
True grit and determination lie behind the stirring stories portraying ordinary domestic scenes and love among Africans in Your Feet Will Lead You Where your Heart Is. The characters’ experiences are offset by the conflict between modernity and progress vs. tradition and holding the mind hostage; evangelical Christianity vs. traditional beliefs; and women up against patriarchal domination. Replete with cultural references, humour and an occasional touch of darkness, the translations from the French are iconoclastic and brimming with linguistic energy and poetic language. The German, French and British colonial legacy; and the turmoil of the Anglophone Crisis – a divisive question in Cameroonian politics – do not directly inform the stories.
The Initiatory Journey
“I considered telling them to stop acting stupid and appealing to pity as though begging for their rights, that tiny creatures crying is music to the ears of predators poised to devour them, and that the world is deaf to shouting and crying.” Students at University in Yaoundé march in protest, demanding change. A psychotic cop is diverted from strangling young Awulu, flees and enters the women’s hostel in search of vicarious erotic pleasure.
Mosé is on Dôme prison’s night shift cleaning team. He surreptitiously retrieves from a box thrown into the incinerator an unfinished letter written by a father to his son before being executed. He decides to try to deliver the letter.
A wife whose dreams of being a stylist are shattered by the crushing demands of marriage and childcare snaps when her high-flying pilot husband tells her he has been invited to Paris Fashion Week. She rebels, finds her voice, rejects the patriarchal glorification of motherhood and stands up to her husband.
Every evening a man tears a page out of the Bible, dips it in water, says a quick prayer and “eats the Word of God”. Why? What does he hope to achieve?
In the title story, incestuous lovers reconnect after forty years apart, unearthing secrets that will change their lives forever.
The Natural and Supernatural
“Today, people of Manjo, you will see the mighty power of the Lord! For the Holy One who sits on the throne is here amongst us. He who is able to give life to dry bones is here, Holy!” Old, rich and revered Pa Ajebe lies in state before the congregation while the man of God speaking in tongues promises to bring him back to life, with unexpected consequences.
“To him life has been a string burning at both ends, never quite reaching the centre.” On the cusp of being ordained into the priesthood, Edwin Amoben gives a student at the community school extra maths lessons and is taken unawares by his attraction towards her. The ensuing tragic misunderstanding engender ludicrous harmful “voices in his head”.
A small piece of gravel acquires magical mystical powers, enriching its master . . . until the day he loses his totem, and it “simply observes the city in distress, under the weight of its own vices.”
The universal human significance of the promising new voices and their emotionally resonant perspectives in this collection had the effect of rejuvenating my relation to language and expression. Storytelling is achieved by mysterious means and is not analytical or linear per se, but instinctive and magical. Your Feet Will Lead You Where your Heart Is should be required reading for any workshop of young short story writers and translators. It is a linguistic feast. Don’t miss out!
For the art lovers among you, discover Cameroonian artist Salifou Lindou, represented by Afikaris (Paris, France), at his home and studio in Douala talking about his experience of working during lockdown. A member of the Kapsiki Circle, a design collective of five artists from Douala, Lindou grew up in Foumban, known as “the city of art”.
While Boris Anje Tabufor, whose artist name is Anjel, is based in Duala, Cameroon (see header image: Focus on your dream, 2019, Acrylic and silk screen print on canvas, 130 x 110 cm / Image: Courtesy of the artist and OOA Gallery, Barcelona). In his work he is dedicated to shaping multifaceted, beautiful black bodies, as empowered and confident individuals.
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