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Book Review: Title: The Cameroonian Novel Of English Expression 

Title:  The Cameroonian Novel Of EnglishExpression; An Introduction
Author:  Shadrach A. Ambanasom
Publisher: Agwecams Printers, Bamenda 2007
Pages: 296
Reviewer: Azore Opio

When Anglophone Cameroonians got tired of laughing at their oppression and realised that laughing was not going to set them free, it was time to pick up the pen. Since then, the pen has been their weapon against the dictatorial, hegemonic leaders and their apparatuses with the play being the predominant genre through which they surreptitiously sneaked their bitter messages. So when I received this new book critiquing Anglophone Cameroon novels of English expression, I felt that the horizons of the novel had widened and this new variable is important in the convoluted equation of intellectual struggle to gain freedom and recognition.

Being mindful that absolutist criticism would not do for contemporary African literary criticism, Shadrach Ambanasom has adopted the socio-artistic approach to critique the close to thirty novels authored by Anglophone Cameroon writers. Taking enlightened eclecticism as his starting point, Ambanasom sets out to handle the Anglophone Cameroon novels produced in an imperial language; English, but which expresses the "intimate and immediate circumstances of their lives that make up the subject matter of the novels."

The task is enormous. Ambanasom examines form, context and conventions, descriptive, analytical techniques, linguistic and paralinguistic sources as employed by the Anglophone Cameroon creative writer and their effectiveness. He examines the elevation of content over style and also explores the importance of modern literary theory that embraces sociological context as well as artistic techniques.

He is particularly good on the significance of the socio-artistic approach which encompasses several critical approaches to try and capture the essence of all the novels treated in "The Cameroonian Novel of English Expression". He applies post-colonial criticism, new historicism, Freudian psychoanalysis, feminist criticism, the Marxist-aesthetic approach and post-structuralism, deconstructing Western imperialist universal presumptuous prejudices, claims and criticisms, which were, for most of the time, discursive, to borrow from Ambanasom.

Keeping flaws, general weaknesses, carelessness, oversight, editorial lapses, typographical and grammatical errors for the sledgehammer, Ambanasom doesn’t, however, forget his literary yardstick and weighing scale, as it were, and the socio-artistic approach which is his major litmus paper to examine and evaluate the imaginative literary works of Anglophone Cameroonian origin.

He picks out the moral lessons, the sharply focused idea, the finely rendered characters and the tightly crafted prose and the plots. Some of the books, Ambanasom discovers, could be a great deal better and worth reading if only they were more meticulously edited for linguistic, orthographic and grammatical accuracy. The first three novels that Ambanasom examines deal with cultural conflict. "The White Man of God," "a contribution to the role mapped out by Achebe to rectify the European vision of Africa.

According to Ambanasom, after Kenjo Jumbam successfully resolves the critical issue of cultural documentation and artistic narration, the author baffles his readers by turning around his well constructed epitome of African traditional religion, Yaya, into a Christian proselyte, practically up-turning the central theme of "The White Man of God". Then, there is Joseph Ngongwikuo’s "Taboo Love" which endures Ambanasom’s critical jabs. The critic hammers hard at lousy characterisation in the book with an equally poor handling of the love theme although the author succeeds in incorporating elements of tradition in his text. The most glaring artistic flaw, according to Ambanasom, however, is Ngongwikuo’s "inept handling of cultural material."

The third Anglophone Cameroonian imaginative work that deals with the sad collision of Africa with Europe is Azanwi Ncahmi’s "Footprints of Destiny", which Ambanasom says exudes a greater sense of history; a product of the socio-historical conditions of the Cameroonian society – the Cameroonian historical novel par excellence. The author, nevertheless, keeps the reader hungering for a dramatic confrontation between Samba and the German colonial authorities that never comes.

In Chapter IV, Abanasom lands on L.T Asong, Tala Ngarka and Nsanda Aba who tackle anti-heroes and societal crooks and the hybridity clash of cultures. Without fear or favour, Ambanasom points out the inconsistency and ambiguity of the use of the technique of interior monologue in L. T Asong’s "Salvation Colony" where a narrative that could have been expressly executed by the central character here, Rev. Pastor Shrapnell. Asong, however, cleverly and humoursly brings out irony of situation in "Stranger in His Homeland"; trying to be straight in a crooked society makes one a truant by all means.

Ambanasom examines women and sexuality in Chapter V; the hetero-sexual relationships with all the scandals that come along with them. In "A Few Nights and Days" and "Because of Women", both novels are set in the 70s, resonate, as Ambanasom says, "with sex and would mean much less outside the sexual context…and racial tension…" Mbella Sonne Dipoko’s (RIP) depiction of characters, emotions, thoughts, according to Ambanasom, is complete, logical and realistic.

Although as seemingly faultless as "A Few Nights and Days" might appear to the reader, Ambanasom observes that those earlier African novels were victims of bias and prejudiced Western criticisms. Dipoko, however, doesn’t escape the accusation of being morally irresponsible as he handles the irresponsible sexual infatuation of his character in "Because of Women".

In "Victim of Circumstances" Ngoran, after actually blowing his trumpet through another’s lips, none other than a certain managing editor of Minerva Press, Abion Thomas, has it rough with Ambanasom who, humorously, but politely, exposes Nogran’s weakness for the bombast, thus making his characters "talk out of character". Ngoran thus suffers from lack of truthfulness or verisimilitude. Langha Kizito seems to be more successful with the use of the English language and the handling his characters (page 178).

In Chapter VII, Ambanasom applies alternative ideological visions to appraise attempts by authors like Tah Asongwed, Francis Nyamnjoh, John N. Nkegansong and Alobwede Epie who explore counter ideologies to socially deconstruct Cameroon. He appraises not only the themes and pre-occupations of the novels under scrutiny but their formal aspects as well. Tah Asongwed, for example, employs satire to criticise and flagellate the current breed of thieving African heads of state and their Western collaborationists, without as much as hurting anyone’s feeling but eliciting disclosure from his character for fictional effect.

Ambanasom examines the modern – stream-of-consciousness technique in Nyamnjoh’s "Mind Searching", a severe departure from the traditional novel steeped in chronology and orderliness in plot and description of places and characters in the real imagined world to the mental-emotional workings of the human mind which psychologically flows with a "constant jumble of sensations, thoughts, memories, associations and reflections." Nyamnjoh’s attempt to reproduce the "raw awareness of the human mind" constantly bombarded by mentations, pays off in "Mind Searching" rendered in the very mental landscape of the central character, Yanda.

Since "The Cameroonian Novel of English Expression" contributes significantly to several genres of literary works, it deserves a careful reading with particular attention to the immediate context in which it appears; the socio-artistic perspective.

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