FAO Quotables

"But being right, even morally right, isn't everything. It is also important to be competent, to be consistent, and to be knowledgeable. It's important for your soldiers and diplomats to speak the language of the people you want to influence. It's important to understand the ethnic and tribal divisions of the place you hope to assist."
-Anne Applebaum

Friday, June 12, 2020

Kruse's Keys: Read "By Night the Mountains Burn" to Experience Survival on the Margins (Equatorial Guinea)

Equatorial Guinea is the only Spanish-speaking country in Africa (following 200 years of Spanish rule)--it's also the richest African country you've never heard of per capita (due to the discovery of oil there in the 90's).  The level of wealth, however, has been rather opaque due to the brutal dictatorship of "President" Obiang who took power by staging a bloody coup against his own Uncle in the late 70's.  Exxon has run most of the country's oil production so despite flagrant human right's abuses, the country has had an on-again-off-again relationship with the U.S..

"By Night the Mountain Burns", however, takes place back during the colonial era on one of the country's neglected islands--the country itself is run from its capital city Malabo on its largest island called Bioko.

It's important to consider the subject matter and themes authors like Laurel choose to address.  A frequent critic of Obiango, the self-exiled author tells a tale in this novel of a marginalized community that survives (sometimes) on the narrowest of margins depending on passing European ships and a strange periodic washing ashore of squids. Life on the island revolves around the ocean and the canoes which the entire community bands together to create and which men are buried in when they dide.  Superstition also plays a central role as the villagers brutally murder one woman for her suspected role in a fire, and later cholera decimates the population.

To my knowledge this is still the only work of fiction available in English from Equatorial Guinea.  The author has since then written about migration in northern Africa (The Gurugu Pledge) and I look forward to more contemporary novels in the future from this small nation.

*One of my Reading Around the Continent books--the full list is here.
See our 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 Reading Lists.

Key Quotes:

  • And besides, he wasn’t trained to believe in things that weren’t written in books.  Location: 1,107
  • If witnessing the hounding of that woman was the singular thing that made the biggest impression on me, the cholera was what caused me the most tears. Because it took so many of our people … If it had taken one hundred people it would have made a huge dent in the island’s population. But it took a lot more than that. A lot more than one hundred girls and boys, men and women,  Location: 1,147
  • Seeing is a form of taking part, and nobody can claim they didn’t see it.  Location: 1506
  • What’s more, the child was white and I don’t think white people are born to lead such hard lives. Location: 2613
  • Everybody knew deads weighed more than alives. Some people think what weighs is the sadness, the pain, the immense darkness of their closed eyes. In death, you have to cross a strange, dark wall. You stop being. You’re destined for the blackness, and you let yourself be taken there. You sleep more deeply than a normal person. And all of this weighs. Other people say no one knows what weighs or why death weighs. It just does. Any man transporting a dead should therefore be forewarned, even if, as in this case, the dead person is a small child. Such journeys are special and the canoeman should be mentally prepared, even though he won’t do anything special himself. But on this occasion, the canoeman was not informed.  Location: 2642

Key references:
New Writing from Equatorial Guinea:
"Government Property" short story by Trifonia Obono
"Obi's Nightmare" by Jamon Y Queso
Interview with author Juan Tomas Avila LaurelThe Filthy Rich Spanish-Speaking Country
HRW: the 40th Anniversary That Shouldn't Be: Obiang

No comments:

Post a Comment