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Patrice Nganang. Image from patricenganang.com.

The Cameroonian writer and Stony Brook literature professor Patrice Nganang, who in 2017 was arrested for criticising the country’s 37-year-ruling president Paul Biya, has a novel coming. When the Plums Are Ripe, which is translated from the French by Amy B. Reid, will be released by the American publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux on 13 August 2019. Set during Cameroon’s forced entry into World War II (1939-45), the 368-page book is the second in his historical fiction trilogy focused on the country. The first is Mount Pleasant (2017).

Here is a description from Amazon:

The second volume in a magisterial trilogy, the story of Cameroon caught between empires during World War II

In Cameroon, plum season is a highly anticipated time of year. But for the narrator of When the Plums Are Ripe, the poet Pouka, the season reminds him of the “time when our country had discovered the root not so much of its own violence as that of the world’s own, and, in response, had thrown its sons who at that time were called Senegalese infantrymen into the desert, just as in the evenings the sellers throw all their still-unsold plums into the embers.” In this novel of radiant lyricism, Patrice Nganang recounts the story of Cameroon’s forced entry into World War II, and in the process complicates our own understanding of that globe-spanning conflict. After the fall of France in 1940, Cameroon found itself caught between Vichy and the Free French at a time when growing nationalism advised allegiance to neither regime, and was ultimately dragged into fighting throughout North Africa on behalf of the Allies.

Moving from Pouka’s story to the campaigns of the French general Leclerc and the battles of Kufra and Murzuk, Nganang questions the colonial record and recenters African perspectives at the heart of Cameroon’s national history, all the while writing with wit and panache. When the Plums Are Ripe is a brilliantly crafted, politically charged epic that challenges not only the legacies of colonialism but the intersections of language, authority, and history itself.

Image from FSG Work in Progress.

When the Plums Are Ripe received a starred review from Kirkus Reviews (“A richly detailed novel . . . A brilliant, beguiling story”), and more positive reviews from Library Journal (“For those who appreciate how fiction illuminates history”), and Publishers Weekly (“With a narrative structure reminiscent of African oral traditions . . . with lyrical, soaring prose, Nganang sings their song, challenging the Euro-written history of colonialism and replacing it with a much-needed African one. The result is a challenging but indispensable novel”).

When the Plums Are Ripe is the second World War II novel we are getting this year, following the Ethiopian Maaza Mengiste’s The Shadow King.

Pre-order When the Plums Are Ripe on Amazon.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. He sits on the judging panels of The Miles Morland Writing Scholarships and of The Gerald Kraak Prize. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. He is currently nominated for the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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