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Ferdinand Oyono: Vie de boy (UK: Houseboy; US: Boy!)

Oyono’s first novel, like his later novel, is a bitter tale of Africans exploited by Europeans, particularly the French. The story is told in flashback as a Cameroonian who is currently staying in Spanish Guinea hears of another “Frenchman” (i.e. a French-speaking Cameroonian) in the country. He goes to see him and finds him dying and, indeed, he does die the next day. However, he leaves behind two notebooks with his story. Toundi, the dying man, has been brought up religiously and works in a seminary with Father Gilbert, a man for whom he has much respect. But Father Gilbert is killed in an accident. The new commandant needs a houseboy and Father Vandermayer tells Toundi to go and work for him. His tale with the commandant is one of humiliation and oppression. Unfortunately for him, he sees things, including the commandant’s wife having an affair with the prison warden. When a Cameroonian woman with whom he is friendly steals money and disappears, Toundi, who is completely innocent, is implicated and badly beaten. He manages, with the connivance of the hospital staff, to escape and make his way to Spanish Guinea, where, as we know, he dies. Oyono’s novel is a tale of colonial oppression. He shows no mercy on any of the French, male or female, who are all despised and despicable.

Publishing history

First published 1956 by Julliard
First published in English 1966 by Heinemann
Translated by John Reed