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.