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Linus T. Asong, No Way To Die Author, Dies 

By Francis Wache

CameroonPostline.com — Dr. Linus T. Asong, the prolific and celebrated Anglophone novelist, died at Mbingo Hospital on Monday, July 16, at about 1 pm. Asong’s death is described in Anglophone literary circles as “devastating.”Considered a literary giant, Asong was a man of many abilities: prolific writer, printer, seasoned academic, fine literary critic and a man with a contagious gift for humour.

In his preface to Asong’s book, Psychological Constructs and the Craft of African Fiction of Yesteryears, M.V. Dimic, a Professor and Chair, Department of Comparative Literature, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, says: “this very stimulating study will hold its own distinctive place for a long, long while. It brings to African critical thought …an exceptional acumen of interpretation and analysis.”

Asong’s novel, Crown Of Thorns, has been used by students writing English Literature at the Ordinary Level. His other publications include Laughing Store, Osagyefo The Great Betrayal, The Crabs of Bangui and Doctor Frederick Ngenito. The late Asong taught literature at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Bambili for close to three decades.

Talking to The Post during the launch of his three books in 2010, Asong said: “I wrote the book while I lay dying in the hospital. My vision of humanity, which has always been cheerful and benign, became clouded with the fear or the likelihood of death. In fact, I did not think that I would live to answer for the book. Even the Nkrumah book was written in the hospital where I stayed for about a year following a road accident. But there it is: a sad book from a happy mind.”

Born in Fotabong, Lebialem Division, in the Southwest Region, L.T. Asong attended the prestigious St. Joseph’s College. He later travelled to Ghana where he obtained a B.A. (Hons) from the University of Cape Coast in 1974. After a one-year stint studying Creative Writing at Windsor, University of Canada, Asong proceeded to Alberta University where he studied Comparative Literature from 1981, bagging his doctorate in 1984.

Since his return home, Asong taught Literature at Ecole Normale Supérieure in Bambili till his death.

On learning of his death, a colleague lamented, “Linus is leaving a huge void. And to imagine that he incidentally wrote a novel entitled “No Way To Die”, and, then, for he, himself, to die so suddenly was definitely not a way to die!”

Late Asong leaves behind a wife, a daughter and two sons as well as hordes of colleagues, friends and the literary community to mourn him.

Details of the funeral programme have not been released although family sources have indicated that he might be buried early August.
(See full interview below).

First published in The Post print edition no. 01360

Interview: Osagyefo The Great Betrayal: Sad Book From A Happy Mind

Linus T. Asong, the prolific writer, launched three books in Bamenda – Osagyefo The Great Betrayal, The Crabs of Bangui and Doctor Frederick Ngenito. In this exclusive interview with The Post, Asong (RIP) explained the storylines of the novels and how and when he wrote them.

The Post: You seem never to publish or launch a single novel, not even two; rather, you’re always dealing with three, four or five…

Asong: I guess it is because that is the way my Muse operates. I have always likened conceiving the idea of a book, writing and publishing it to child bearing – from conception, pregnancy and eventual birth. If a woman can only give birth to twins or triplets or even quadruplets, she has no choice but to deliver them. I have never written only one novel at any given time. They come to my mind in waves and, so, I produce them in waves.

Which? How are these new novels related to the previous ones?

Stylistically, all my novels are alike in that I make sure that the reader is held spell-bound until he/she comes to the last page. And, even when you come to the last page, you would want to know what happened after the book. My power of description, too, continues to be relentless, and so also is my attitude towards characterisation.

These new novels (Osagyefo The Great Betrayal, The Crabs of Bangui and Doctor Frederick Ngenito), however, are separate works, each one completely different from the others not simply stylistically but thematically. And, then, none of them has any bearing on any of the previous books whatsoever. Osagyefo is a historical novel about the life of Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the focus is on the last six years of his life.

The Crabs of Bangui is the story of the kind of person we call these days a 419, a banker who, after losing his job, decides to take his revenge on society by milking all those who already have and are hungry for more. Doctor Ngenito is the story of two strong-willed characters brought to ruin by their essential natures as well as parental misguidance.

Osagyefo! Why Osagyefo and where does Nkrumah come in?

Osagyefo was the show-name of Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah was a man who loved flattery and so enjoyed being so called. It actually means MIGHTY ONE or ALL POWERFUL LEADER.

You say it is a historical novel. But as a Literature teacher, what do you have to do with History? And why go as far as Ghana when we have our own leaders here about whom no book has been written?

I am a Literature teacher but I could very conveniently have taught History. It is a matter of inclination and background. I had a combined Honours degree from the University of Cape Coast, Ghana. I was in Ghana when Nkrumah died, and, long before his death, his image had always attracted me. Concerning our politicians here or history makers, I have no problem with them. Just that they do not seem to constitute good material for a historical novel.

The important exception is, of course, Ndeh Ntumazah whose biography I wrote – A CONVERSATIONAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY. I had actually conceived the story as a historical novel, but he stepped on so many toes that, if I tried to fictionalise it, the living politicians would hang me alive. Hear what I said in the FOREWORD to the Osagyefo book: “This book is first and foremost a novel, implying that it is basically a work of fiction. Therefore, the characters, the episodes and the issues at stake may not be historically realistic.

But, even more than that, Osagyefo: The Great Betrayal is a historical novel; therefore, although the characters and the situations, and dialogue may be products of the imagination, at the heart of the novel is a character and a situation that did, in fact, take place. The inspiration to write such a novel stemmed from the mass of material I encountered some years ago while working on (Ndeh Ntumazah: A Conversational Autobiography). This is the story of another enigmatic and elusive freedom fighter as well as Kwame Nkrumah’s personal friend.

I discovered that the period between 1950 and 1965 was extremely rich and challenging, and that the political leaders of the time were all, without exception, activists of larger than life characters and whose lives sounded stranger than fiction. The unfortunate thing about African political leaders these days is that they do not make interesting subjects for fiction: while in office, they are sacrosanct even in their endless vices; and, when out of office, they become so anathema that no writer of talent would spend useful time on them.

What made you think that you could produce a novel from the story of such a character?

A novel is simply a sequence of events involving interesting persons narrated with an air of verisimilitude. The story of Nkrumah’s life is interesting, even if sad and unfortunate. I saw in him a tragic figure reminiscent of any of Shakespeare’s great tragic heroes. He was larger than life and was so full of confidence that he failed to see the gathering storm. He is a fit subject for such a book.

I see here that all your novels, including these last three, are already published abroad in the US and are distributed worldwide by Michigan State University Press (within North America) and African Books Collective  in London (outside North America). Why did you think it necessary to launch them here now?

True, all my books are published abroad and sold online by AMAZON and others. But that is not enough. All of them give a Cameroonian’s perspective of the topics treated in each book, including even as foreign a text or theme as Osagyefo’s Great Betrayal. The Cameroonian is the first beneficiary or consumer.

But when you look at the cost of at least $20 per copy, you wonder how many Cameroonians can spend that kind of money on the books. Besides, how many people can order books online? By launching these books, I have cut the cost to about FCFA 5,000 which, I think, is relatively affordable. Even the foreign publishers cannot send more than a few copies to me in Cameroon and, yet, it is in Cameroon that my works make the greatest impact.

As far as these three novels are concerned how do you react to them? Are you passionate about them; happy with your achievement? In other words, how do you think the world will react to them?

I am happy with my achievement in all of them, especially with what I was finally able to do with the image of Nkrumah. As to how I think the world will react to them, I am not so sure because each reader will take from each novel what emotion it imparts on him/her. As for being passionate, you have to be passionate towards a subject to be able to write about it successfully. For instance, my wife, who is the first critic and editor of every novel I write, has expressed great repulsion at Doctor Ngenito.

Why?

She thinks I was too cruel to the characters in the book; that I was unfair.

And you, as the author, do you find her charge correct?

She is perfectly right and I think it was because I wrote the book while I lay dying in the hospital. My vision of humanity, which has always been cheerful and benign, became clouded with the fear or the likelihood of death.

In fact, I did not think that I would live to answer for the book. Even the Nkrumah book was written in the hospital where I stayed for about a year following a road accident. But there it is: a sad book from a happy mind.
Interviewed By Chris Mbunwe

(This interview was conducted in 2010 and is being published posthumously)
 

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