A young but intelligent and open student has returned to Cameroon in the year 2001, anxious to research the history of her people and their path towards freedom from German, French and British colonialism. We then meet Sara, who was given as a gift to Sultan Njoya, a Bamum leader in exile. A woman named Bertha had met this kidnapped girl and mysteriously imagined seeing her dead son, Nebu, in her. From that moment, Bertha had taught Sara the “language of love,” a counterpoint to the chaos ruling Cameroon in 1931.
Sara, now an old woman, slowly and lyrically tells the story not only of her real life as a replacement for Nebu but also describes the sultan’s court and the circumstances that led to a very sad ending for the real Nebu. He and his people are intellectuals and artists, which Sara lyrically describes with numerous examples of their brilliance. The stories are pervaded with the magical realism popularized by the Nobel prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez; these stories are so unrelatable, albeit beautiful, that the reader is suspended in neither belief nor disbelief but floats in this creative sea of poetic prose. Seamlessly interwoven into these tales are unmistakable prejudice, mistreatment, and colonial scorn, presented also in nuanced fashion.
However, Njoya, Nebu, Sara and many other characters are clearly gifted, insightful and visionary masters of Cameroon, so one must celebrate their independence (in 1960), however fraught with difficulties it is. Patrice Nganang is a highly gifted writer who introduces the reader to Cameroon in Central Africa and allows us to decipher its historical, cultural and political evolution through the mouth of the doyenne, Sara. Superb historical fiction!