Book Review: La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono

This is a queer coming-of-age novella based in rural Equatorial Guinea. I must say I really liked it. It’s the story of a 16 year old girl growing up in a village in Equatorial Guinea near the border with Gabon, sometime in the first decade of the XXIst century. Her mother died at childbirth before her father could pay the bride price, and she is raised by her grandmother. She doesn’t know her father, not even his name, and longs for a normal family. Her grandma is obsessed with getting her husband to get rid of his second wife, and the whole village blames her gay uncle for every misfortune under the skies.

What I find most memorable about this novel is the use of language to portray invisibility. The gay uncle is called man-woman, since his attraction for men gets him to be considered by his tribe as feminine. But there’s no word for what our young narrator is: a woman in love with a woman. Her family rejects her feelings: she cannot be something that cannot be named. If it cannot be named, it doesn’t exist. Her uncle is ostracized for his obvious non-conformance, but her? She can slide under the radar as long as she keeps her feelings private. And invisibility is a double edged sword: she can be left alone to be her in the shadows, but she will never be able to be free to be her, to claim her rights.

Book Review: Petite Fleur by Iosi Havilio or A Novel On Resurrection (Spoilers!)

This review includes spoilers. I don’t usually mind them since I feel that they allow me to understand the book better from the start, but if you do, please do not read any further. A spoiler-free review has been posted to my Instagram page (@literaryinfatuation).

If I could sum up this short and captivating novel in one word I’d say: Resurrection. José, husband of Laura and father to a one year-old girl named Antonia, lives in a small town in Argentina. On arriving to work one morning, he discovers that the factory where we worked was burned to the ground. Consequently, his wife decides to go back to work early and takes a position as a proofreader at the same company, rather than her old job as editor. José, on the other hand, becomes a full-time dad and housekeeper. Laura works long hours, has a very long commute and feels very frustrated due to her demotion. Her spirits are down, and if you couple that with José’s own frustration at his new situation, marital problems are unavoidable. José is bored, frustrated and feeling utterly at loss, how will he fill in the long hours? He quickly devotes his whole energy and time to fixing things around the house and being the perfect dad, husband and housekeeper. He discovers that he is actually pretty good at it, even if Laura seems to mind everything he does or does not do. One day he even decides to start composting and growing vegetables in his garden and heads over to his next door neighbor to ask for a spade. What follows is a crazy journey, full of murder, obsession and paranoia. The novel takes this crazy twist pretty early on, and José’s narration full of frustration becomes even muddier. His marriage gets worse. He loses control of his life and starts losing faith on his dream to become a writer, which he had left long behind to be able to provide for his family. What we will discover along with José in his journey, is the resurrection of lives lost, resurrection of his marriage, and resurrection of his dreams.

If you are a fan of Tolstoy or Ernesto Sabato’s The Tunnel, I feel pretty confident that you’ll love this short novel, packing a lot of action and intrigue in less than 200 pages. If you love authors who “show rather than tell”, you’ll find this story right up your alley.

The only reason why it is a 4 star rather than a 5 star read for me has nothing to do with the author himself. Though I have not had a chance to get a hold of an original version in Spanish, I feel that the translator made sentences shorter to make the narration sound more similar to what it would have if it were written in English. That is not necessarily bad, but being that it is supposed to be the rambling of a very disturbed and confused person, it makes it feel at times unnatural. Plus, as a native speaker of Spanish, such short sentences do not seem possible or natural in the speech of an Argentinian, much less a very frustrated and upset one. I think that the translator should have given the reader a bit more credit. If the reader can figure out dialogues without any punctuation or spacing, then she/he can handle a few long sentences. Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough.