Equatorial Guinea: To Be or Not to Be a Priest

Yet another country with not too many books to choose from, but then I found Shadows of Your Black Memory by Donato Ndongo, a coming of age novel set in the last years of Spanish ruling in Equatorial Guinea. This is the story of a man, a man whose name we never find out, who looks back at his life in Equatorial Guinea.

The main character was meant to become a priest, which his family was proud of, but then he decided to go to law school, which did not make his family happy. While reflecting back at his life he seems to come to an understanding of why and what happened, as well as who he is himself.

The uniqueness of this book is that it is set in Equatorial Guinea. The story could have been set in quite a few other countries as well. The struggle between ancient religion and Catholicism, for example, is something that has have happened in most corners of the world, if not Catholicism, then another world religion. It sets its marks on everyone involved. So does colonialism. Not everything the conquerors bring to the country they are taking over is bad, but it is rare that the good parts are presented in any books. Mostly it is, of course, a struggle, and not a struggle that can easily be solved. Tradition versus modernity is naturally another issue, but times are achanging no matter what we try to do to stick to our old ways. Sooner or later it’s a matter of what is important to us in the end.

In the light of all this you cannot blame a young man for being confused. “I don’t feel like I’ve been called by God to this mission. It weighs on me that I received my minor orders knowing that I didn’t deserve them, and I can’t go on. I had this feeling some time ago, but I doubted, I fought with myself, I asked for guidance… I don’t have the vocation to be a priest, father.”

The prose was beautiful at times, but I had some problems with the way the book was written. The lack of an actual plot is frustrating, and I have found it to be quite common in African literature in general. My other issue with the book is sentences as long as paragraphs, and paragraphs longer than a page. It must be a challenge to translate these books, and together with some cultural specialities, it must be interesting as well. I wish I’d learned more about Equatorial Guinea than I did, but I guess you can’t fit everything into such a short novel.

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