I found exactly one book from Gabon in English, and luckily I was able to purchase a copy of it online. These African countries with only one or two books available tend to be “as African as they can be”. This applies to Mema by Daniel Mengara in many ways as well. Old versus new, native land versus colonialism, tradition versus modernity. The most typical themes you can find. Add superstition into the pot, and there you have it.
Mema, the mother, is the strong protagonist in this novella. She has a sharp tongue, and is not the most popular person in her village. The villagers believe she is barren, but then she manages to get pregnant and have four children. Unfortunately, her husband and daughters die, and Mema gets accused of being a witch by her husband’s relatives.
Mema was written as a tribute to the author’s mother. In many ways she was the Mema in this book. The book is a recollection from a boy’s point of view of what happened during his childhood. These reflections are always interesting to read, especially if the writer has had a chance on reflecting back on his childhood as an adult. The perspective is always quite different after such a long time, as well as when you have all the blanks filled in about the things you didn’t understand, or you weren’t told about when you were a child.
Having no strong opinions about this book one way or another I find it interesting to see that many people are fascinated about the story, and that they absolutely loved this book. For some reason I never really felt a strong connection with the book, and pretty much forgot about everything I read once I had finished reading the book.
The prose it quite beautiful. “The people in my village used to say that people without land was like a child without a mother. A child was able to know who he was, where he came from and where he was going only when he had a mother. Without a mother, the villagers said, a child was lost. He was lost because he knew neither his past, nor his present.” Mothers seemed to be very important in this village, so I can understand that women without children are probably been seen as less than nothing.
Luckily for Mema in this book she loved her husband, and he loved her. She was a strong woman, who loved her children deeply. She wa ready to fight for her and her children’s rights, and without being strong this would have been impossible. Tradition is another strong force, and when people turn against you life gets hard. Mema lived her life, and wasn’t afraid of being who she was. Without knowing too much about Gabon, or the life in a small village there, it seems like she was an extraordinary woman, not only to her son, but a strong headed woman, who fought for what she believed in, and she did not let others take her down. I admire that kind of courage and strength!
The culture is changing in Africa, and Mema is a good description of how it changes through the eyes of one woman, reflected in the eyes of her son. It is a book with many layers, and perhaps one day I’ll give it another go.