Cruel City: A Novel

Cruel City: A Novel

Cruel City: A Novel

Cruel City: A Novel

Synopsis

Under the pseudonym Eza Boto, Mongo Beti wrote Ville cruelle (Cruel City) in 1954 before he came to the world's attention with the publication of Le pauvre Christ de Bomba (The Poor Christ of Bomba). Cruel City tells the story of a young man's attempt to cope with capitalism and the rapid urbanization of his country. Banda, the protagonist, sets off to sell the year's cocoa harvest to earn the bride price for the woman he has chosen to wed. Due to a series of misfortunes, Banda loses both his crop and his bride to be. Making his way to the city, Banda is witness to a changing Africa, and as his journey progresses, the novel mirrors these changes in its style and language. Published here with the author's essay "Romancing Africa," the novel signifies a pivotal moment in African literature, a deliberate challenge to colonialism, and a new kind of African writing.

Excerpt

Collected here are two of the most important works of Francophone African literature, finally available in English: the critical essay “Romancing Africa” (“Afrique noire, littérature rose,” 1955), and the novel Cruel City (Ville cruelle, 1954), both by the Cameroonian man of letters Alexandre Biyidi Awala, whom the world would come to know as Mongo Beti (1932–2001). Beti was born in the Northern Cameroonian town of Akométan near Mbalmayo, a city whose river and old reinforced concrete bridge can easily be imagined as models for Tanga. Indeed, numerous biographical details match up well with the novel, such as the early death of Beti’s father and the discussions the author had with his mother about religion and politics. the big difference of course lies in the character’s relative illiteracy. Over the course of his nearly fifty-year career, Beti would receive broad acclaim as one of the greatest literary tellers of political and existential truths; he spent decades in exile for his criticism of Cameroon’s post-independence regimes, and his writing would, on occasion, even be censored in France. Both on their own and taken as the beginning of this substantial literary production, “Romancing Africa” and Cruel City represent a pivotal moment for the continent: the first drafts of a Francophone African literary canon.

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