Colonialism has left its long and dark shadow on our planet. Cameroon has had its fair share of foreign ownership, and the book Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono tells the fictional story of a young black houseboy working for white masters. Young Toundi is working for Father Gilbert, who suddenly passes away, and Toundi’s life changes dramatically. Toundi becomes the houseboy of a Commandant with a mean and cheating wife.
The whites way of living creates confusion and amusement amongst the locals. White men are obviously the rich and powerful ones, and the natives their servants. Houseboy is liked by his master, but the master’s wife does not like Toundi. He does what she asks him to do, but she is not satisfied with him at all. She is however bold, and all the servants know about her infidelity, because whenever her husband is away she is having her boyfriend over.
This novella is written in a way that it is a diary, without fully being one. It captures the essentials of the relationship between Europeans and Africans in a country which has been victim to colonization. A young boy becomes a young man while learning the harsh truth of being of the “wrong” colour. While working for the priest Toundi was still an innocent youngster who found a mentor, and a refuge from the life he escaped from. After the death of the Priest the shelter is shattered, and reality hits.
Even though Toundi is not being physically abused by his master, life is not easy. After reading many books about abuse and dreadful destinies, Toundi’s life does not seem to be too demanding or dreadful. He is meant to lead a life of a “to be seen, but not heard” servant, with no ambitions or future of his own. In a way Toundi is a civilized version of a slave, in a colonized Cameroon. Looking at it from this perspective, modern day slavery, or as abusing the system, it makes it quite dreadful after all. Yet the saddest characters in the novella are the whites.
I think the book would have been better if it wasn’t written in a diarylike form. However, the book gives a short and interesting overview what life was like for some servants during colonization. Strangely enough there are not many books like this out there. Same goes for books set in Cameroon. I wish there were. I admit being deeply and utterly in love with literature written in English and from a Western point of view, but I think it is educational to read books from all around our globe. Reading opens minds, and we have a lot to learn from each other. Get outside your comfort zone and read something different!