Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book. This is a novel that softly, softly got its hooks into me. As I started, I thought the opening plot device of finding the diaries of the dying protagonist, Toundi, and then recounting them was trite. I didn't care for Oyono's terse, abrupt and staccato prose. As I ended, I had forgotten that I was reading a diary, for it reads nothing like one, and nothing about the language Oyono chose bothered me. Instead, I sat, mesmerized, in the way you do when watching a traffic accident unfold before you: powerless but unable to look away.
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Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book. This is a novel that softly, softly got its hooks into me. As I started, I thought the opening plot device of finding the diaries of the dying protagonist, Toundi, and then recounting them was trite. I didn't care for Oyono's terse, abrupt and staccato prose. As I ended, I had forgotten that I was reading a diary, for it reads nothing like one, and nothing about the language Oyono chose bothered me.
Instead, I sat, mesmerized, in the way you do when watching a traffic accident unfold before you: powerless but unable to look away. To say that Houseboy is anti-colonial literature is a bit of an understatement. On one hand it is a scathing portrait of the French overlords' cruelty toward a population that they viewed as not much more than property.
It is also an indictment of the lie behind the policy of assimilation — learn to speak French and ape our manners and we will welcome you as Frenchmen — as almost every French person shudders at the thought of that actually happening.
Most of all, however, it is a mirror for the hypocrisy upon which the whole system was built. On the surface there is a strong thread of Christianity being wielded as a tool of "civilization", while the actions of its proponents belie every precept it teaches.
The French elite speak knowingly of the lack of moral fiber among the natives when, in fact, the behavior of those speaking is far worse than those they criticize. In the end, they turn on Toundi, not because he has committed a crime, or because they are sadistic and brutal, but simply because they know that he has seen their hypocrisy and they cannot stand to see that knowledge in his eyes.
Houseboy 's power comes from the scope in which it makes its statements. It shows you what it needs to show in the everyday life of a houseboy, not in the events of revolution or the political struggles that eventually threw off the colonial yoke. It makes you think of Arendt's phrase about the "banality of evil. He moved into politics, becoming a diplomat and a cabinet minister for President Biya before dying a couple of years ago.
It would have been interesting to get one more book out of him from the viewpoint of 50 years after independence that showed how he saw things now. He asks: "'Brother Brother, what are we? What are we blackmen who are called French? I had never asked myself that question. I was young then and thoughtless. I felt myself grow stupid. As a young boy, Toundi was fascinated with the local Catholic mission and the priest who regularly distributed candy to the village children.
After an argument with his father, Toundi runs away to the mission, and becomes the "boy" of the priest. When the priest dies, Toundi becomes the "boy" of the town's French commandant. The novel is set in the French Cameroon. From his sometimes naive point of view, Toundi draws clear portraits of the French colonists and their cruelty to and disdain for the native people. Although in becoming the priest's houseboy Toundi gave up his tribal identity, he finds that he will never fit in among the colonizers.
Tragedy ensues when the commandant and his vain wife seek to "dispose" of Toundi when they think he knows too many of their secrets.
The Times Literary Supplement said of this book: "It is a better guide to French colonial Africa, and to racism, than any non-fiction account, whether by an African or Frenchman. Highly recommended. He is initially both attracted and repelled by the Europeans he works for, even as we know, because the novel begins with his death by violence, that things will get bad quickly.
Oyono depicts the interactions among the Africans in the story, as well as their perceptive observations of life within white households, including all their bad behavior; of course, the whites don't really think the Africans notice what they do, because they don't notice the Africans except when they displease them.
And then, the violence, cruelty, and randomness of the colonial power comes into play. Oyono is a terrific writer parts of this book are quite funny , with a great sense of pacing, and has a keen eye for hypocrisy and racism. I got this book because of an enthusiastic review here on LT, and I'm glad I finally read it.
It begins with the discovering of a young man, Toundi, dying on the road. In his satchel are notebooks detailing his life as a houseboy to the French commandant, and the events leading to his own death. Oyono's book brilliantly examines the dishonesty that characterizes the interactions of black and white.
Europeans are outwardly superior and civilized, Africans are outwardly subservient and stupid. As a houseboy, Toundi witnesses the sexual misdemeanors and psychopathic rages of the Europeans that give a lie to the veneer of civilization and hypocrisy of professed Christian morals. By placing Toundi in the heart of the European household, Oyono is able to show that the difference between the two is races is really in the balance of power and the simplicity with which it can be abused.
I read Houseboy in a single sitting. Setting aside the slightly contrived and incredulous device of the discovered notebooks, it was a really well written short novel. Toundi's doom is written large from page one, so you know it isn't gong to end well for him, but that didn't stop me being engrossed.
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Houseboy is Ferdinand Oyono's first work, an anti-colonial narrative that takes place during the last years of the French control of his native Cameroon.
As this novel opens, Toundi is on the verge of death. This short but powerful novel explores the evils of colonialism through the story of a young Cameroonian man, Toundi, who becomes the "houseboy" first for a priest and then for the French "commandant" in the area. Written in the s, it is a deftly put together examination of the clashes between the natives of Cameroon and the Europeans that came to subjugate them.
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Conflict and the black servant in Oyono's "Houseboy" and Gordimer's "July's People"
Specifically, it looks at how the black servant is forced to balance the loyalty he has for the white employer and for his African roots. The analysis of Houseboy will focus on how conflict is represented between whites and blacks, how it can satirically have a positive influence on others and lastly, how conflict among the blacks can be very destructive. Houseboy shows how conflict can be prompted by stereotypes; how it can be a shield from other pressing concerns and even how conflict itself can provide an outlet for humour. An argument can be made therefore if conflict experienced by black servants during the colonial period was more in the open as opposed to that of apartheid South Africa. However, African texts written by African writers have shown conflict in a more holistic sense by moving beyond black — white dichotomies to focus on a more intriguing case of black on black conflict within a setting where the white man is still lord. The intention of this paper is to analyse how conflict particularly affects the black servant across and within the colour lines in a racially stratified society. However, it is important to say a few things about conflict first.
Post a Comment. Wednesday, October 24, Ferdinand Oyono's Houseboy. It was terrible. I thought of all the priests, all the pastors, all the white men, who come to save our souls and preach love of our neighbors. Who can go on believing the stuff we are served up in the churches when things happen like I saw today The protagonist, Toundi, dies but leaves a diary telling his life story, which is discovered by a Frenchman who then translate it into French, framing the novel.