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Ferdinand Oyono: Chemin d’Europe (Road to Europe)

While still writing on his favourite theme – the hypocrisy of the white colonizers, the need for Africans to try and escape this oppression – this work is more bitter and less witty than Vieux nègre et la médaille (The Old Man and the Medal). Aki Barnabas is an educated Cameroonian. With difficulty and help from his oppressed parents, he studies to become a priest. However, he is deemed to be too friendly with another seminarian and summarily thrown out. The rest of the novel is spent with his efforts both to get a job but, more importantly, as the title implies, to get to Europe, specifically France.

He tries various jobs – working in a shop, with a Greek owner, teaching a French girl, working in a hotel – but none is satisfactory. The teaching job is inspired as much as anything by his desire for the mother of his student and he fantasizes about their having an affair and her leaving her husband and taking him back to France with her. It doesn’t happen and mother and daughter return to France on their own. His mother diligently helps him to try and raise money to go to France, even going to the tribal leaders. He is rebuffed by them but not before his mother gives them a taste of her tongue. His best success is when he is on a bus that is stuck in traffic and his story is discussed and all the passengers contribute to his kitty. He nearly walks away from his dream when Bendjanga-Boy tells him that it is a waste of time going to France – even college graduates are sweeping the streets so what hope is there for him. Indeed, it looks like it is his fate to stay at home till, right at the very end, he comes across a revival meeting, where the preachers are planning on taking a few smart Africans with them to Europe. Hypocrisy – as Oyono never fails to point out – wins the day.

Publishing history

First published 1960 by Julliard
First published in English 1989 by Three Continents Press
Translated by Richard Bjornson