Adrienne Yabouza: Co-épouses et co-veuves, (Co-wives, Co-widows)
This is apparently the first adult novel from the Central African Republic to be published in English, though one of Yabouza’s stories for children – Une Poupée pour Maman – was translated as The Magic Doll.
Yabouza has been a keen defender of women’s rights and also the rights of widows (as the book’s title implies) and that is what this book is about.
Lidou is forty-nine and has made a successful career as a house builder. He has two wives. The oldest, Ndongo Passy, has had only one child with him, a twelve-year old boy called Gbandagba. However, he has four children with Grekpoubou. He alternates two nights with one and then two nights with the other. Both women work, Ndongo selling peanuts and cassava and Grekpoubou children’s clothes. These are sold at the entrance to the compound.
Lidou is generally happy with his life – a successful business, four children and two beautiful wives. However, he has one problem – his performance in bed. He has tried cutting back his drinking and smoking but to no avail. He has also tried various local aphrodisiacs but the problem remains. His cousin, Zouaboua, has brought him some mysterious pink liquid while he has also managed to procure some Cialis pills at great cost. He takes both and things seem to improve.
While this is going on, we are also learning about the elections that are taking place. There are five candidates, including the incumbent president François Bozizé (who is not mentioned by name in this book). There were five candidates and it was like having to choose between five serious illnesses. The two co-wives go off to vote without consulting their husband, which is he is not too happy about.
The election process continues but Lidou suddenly feels unwell. By the time Gbandagba comes home, he is dead. His wives are at the cathedral and are summoned home and are naturally in mourning for him. Zouaboua, eager to claim the inheritance, turns up and locks all the doors. With the aid of Songowali, Lidou’s sister, they get a local doctor to say that Lidou has been poisoned (a well-filled brown envelope changes hands) and the pair are eager to blame the co-wives for Lidou’s death.
Ndongo has managed to break the locks and help herself to various items and the money and she shares everything with Grekpoubou. The two are expelled from the funeral and then expelled from the compound and have to return to their parents.
The rest of the book tells of what they do next, with the help of other women (only a woman could really understand another woman. It is clear that the Central African Republic like most (all?) other countries is a patriarchy and it is also clear that it is corrupt and that various officials can be and are bribed. Indeed, in the background we learn of the elections and, clearly, Yabouza does not have much faith in their honesty either. This country should be run by women, real women, says Ndongo Passy, and she is almost certainly right.
Yabouza tells a very good story and, at the same time, shows the plight of women, and, in this case, particularly widows, in the Central African Republic. The solution is clear. Women must stick together and fight the patriarchy, with a little bit of help from their right-thinking male friends.
First published in 2015 by Cauris livres
First English translation in 2021 by Dedalus
Translated by Rachael McGill