Reviewed by Sam-Nuvala Fonkem
The Travails of Dieudonne is Nyamnjoh's 5th novel, a remarkable achievement for an academic with an impressive collection of scholarly publications who has demonstrated versatility in his ability to stride across the literary world and the intelligentsia.
The novel tells the story of Dieudonne, a houseboy who works for a white couple from Munzunguland Monsieur and Madamme Toubaby, who are resident in Beverly Hills, an exclusive neighbourhood of Nyamandem where, it was rumoured, the stolen wealth that had failed to make its way out of the country tended to be buried in extravagant luxuries that were simply out of this world.
The Toubaby household is inhabited by a dog and eight cats who are fed on special diets, drink only bottled mineral water and are occasionally flown abroad for medical attention when need arises.
The couple has no children because, according to Madamme, the world is overpopulated and there are too many mouths to feed and too little food.By contrast, Dieudonne, an underpaid slum dweller, must content himself with dry rations of boiled cassava paste and toasted groundnuts; make do with a rat-infested abode riddled with holes and crevices that made a mockery of his privacy.
He regularly seeks escape, sympathy and consolation at Grand Canary Bar in Swine Quarter where denizens share drinks, joy and sorrows. The narrative is told in the third person (author) and the first person (Dieudone) with the plot mainly centred around Beverly Hills and Grand Canary, where the nouveaux pauvres gather to drown their frustrations in beer and assorted alcoholic drinks with the tacit approval of President Longstay, the Lion Man whose portrait hangs on the wall of the bar, and whose policies have made it easier to obtain official authorisation to operate a bar than to open a school.
The poorly disguised allusion to Cameroon, the country in which Nyamnjoh's satire takes place, comes across in names like Mimboland where the most prosperous breweries are owned by members of government with President Longstay himself heading the list; where there is a proliferation of bars and unlicensed drinking places booming with erotic dancing of Bikutsi music. The authorities encourage heavy drinking in the belief that L'alcohol tue la violence politique.
The narrative is spiced with a heavy dose of word play and witticisms inspired by the names of bars, city landmarks and the brand names of the favourite brews such as Gold Harp which translates into "government officials like drinking heavily after receiving pay."
It explores the dynamism of poverty and how the downtrodden in society cope with their condition of desperation and helplessness, revealing at the same time the indestructible quality of man to keep hope alive against all odds.