- Book: A LONG WAY FROM DOUALA
- Location: Cameroon
- Author: Max Lobe, Ros Schwartz (Translator)
After reading this short novel, I feel I have peeked into a new and very different culture through the eyes of author Max Lobe (a story which is beautifully brought to life in the capable hands of translator Ros Schwartz).
At the heart of the story is an odyssey through the country from Douala in the South towards the northern cities. Choupi’s father has just died, his mother is distraught and Choupi’s brother Roger, a football fanatic, gets wound up by thoughts of sibling rivalry and a troubled relationship with his mother. One day he disappears and it is clear he has set off on a journey northwards, spurred on by the hope – the fantasy – of playing for one of the big football teams in Europe. He will probably head for Nigeria to attempt boza, which is the word used by West African migrants when they reach European soil.
This is Choupi’s story: he teams up with neighbourhood friend Simon and together they undertake an extraordinary journey through the country in search of Roger.
This is a gentle narrative, which certainly doesn’t gloss over the hardships and poverty in the country. Bus journeys are recounted with great aplomb and acuity, and at one point Simon almost misses the bus at one stop as he goes in search of grilled caterpillars (yes, to eat). There are taxis and trains to ferry them northwards, people to encounter and a trail to follow that often goes cold. Bubbling away in the background are the terrorist manoeuvrings of Boko Haram, which overshadow everyday life, and gradually, as the two spend more time together, there is a growing intimacy as they plough onwards.
This coming-of-age novel is oftentimes a heartening, entertaining story, written in beautiful prose, with a variety of richly defined characters that add so much colour, edginess and interest to the narrative. You will certainly get a flavour of the country and geography of Cameroon if you read this novel. And loving the cover!