Monday, February 24, 2020

'Living and dying under Paul Biya', a French woman is indignant

The polyphony of a young French novelist, where children mourn and choose their parents, in Cameroon yesterday and today.

Four voices, four lives, four solitudes linked by silent intimacy and by the imperative need to remain alive in a country haunted by a people of ghosts, orphans and excess men, the Cameroon of President Paul Biya. On one side, suggests Anne-Sophie Stefanini, there is Ruben and Constance. On the other, Jean-Martial and Catherine. Ruben is the son of Jean-Martial, Constance, the daughter of Catherine. The first are united by childhood and the disappearance of the second, carried away by the voracious appetite of the Cameroonian Polyphemus. 

Painful absence 

Jean-Martial died in prison for having written too much, spoken too much, believed too much in another world, it was in 1991. Catherine, for her part, disappeared one evening, it was May 24, 1991. A taxi and then nothing. What happened to him that night? Who was she really? 

Ruben and Constance were 9 years old. They are now adults. But how do you live with the painful absence - the condition of orphans - in a country where everything is a lie and a forgotten thing? What truth can we expect in these cold places where we tell stories to erase history? Ruben also chose the taxi, not to disappear like Catherine, but to find an answer. Like Travis, the former marine of Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver, Ruben the shipwrecked wanders aboard a raft at a time when men are sleeping. Travis had fought in the Vietnam War. Ruben is the child of the Cameroonian wars. Here he is, in turn, a shadow of himself in search of a dream that will always elude him because it is the curse of men to pursue a chimera. By dedicating his life to the absent..

Unequal struggle against a ruthless regime 

Her soul mate, Constance, made the opposite choice. Do not seek, do not find. Catherine's daughter decided, like her mother, to live by breaking up and moving away. Here she is a night watchman in a hotel at the Gare du Nord in Paris. Still at night. Cameroon still lives there, but her history with the country of her childhood undoubtedly broke down on May 24, 1991. This young woman of voluntary exile is alone and silent. But available, too, to the owner of the Hotel des Cypres, to this "perhaps" which opens up to a new life: "He should have put his hand on his thigh, kissed it, looked at the road holding his hand , turn to her at the red light, at the zebra crossings, realize that she smiled, that she agreed to everything, that she said yes, in her own way, bring her back to Fontainebleau, her house in the forest, force her to sleep really at the hours when the others sleep, to eat a little, to walk every day in the woods, to utter the cries which she retained in her, alone in the garden, in the shelter, to speak finally. " 

And there are Jean-Martial and Catherine. Two fighters, two living hearts that fertilize each other. But the struggle is uneven in the face of such a merciless regime. When the novel is finished, he continues his work to the rhythm of the serene elegance of its author. Its river writing takes the reader to this Cameroon where mourning is impossible and final loss. And say to yourself, following Catherine and Constance: "I would now like to be born into reality. "