Nana Nqueti’s Cameroonian Tales at Home and in America

walk on shells
Nana Nkwet. By

I finished this story collection and thought, “Is there anything that Nana Nkweti can’t do?” In his raucous and utterly influential debut, “Walking on Cowry Shells”, Nqueti has written in a range of genres including science fiction, young adult literature, literary fiction and mystery, with many voices – immigrants and first generations, elders and generals. Jade, human and supernatural, faithful and godless – from the United States and Africa.

Nkweti’s completely original stories range from laughable to heartwarming, and often are both, as in the sarcastic “It Takes a Village Some Say”. Against the backdrop of social media celebrity culture, we see the unexpected collision of “discovery” – short for financial domination, a sexual fetish arrangement in which a submissive gives gifts and money to a chief – and the questionable business of international adoption. The white adoptive mother of a Cameroonian child says: “People think Bono and Bill Gates are supporting the continent; They don’t know it’s us.”

Naqveti offers no easy solutions to the dilemmas faced by her rich level characters, and she challenges our assumptions about who the villains and victims are. Taunted in the playground by black American classmates (“African booty scratcher. Betchu live in a tree. Bet yo’ mama’s a monkey”), a Cameroonian American girl is given to her mother (“A psycho and an exuberant hug”). ), who tells him, “They’re longing, learning to love themselves too late… you remind them of all they’ve lost.” This sensitivity, meticulousness and intense attention to history is visible on every page of the collection.

Romantic love and sorrow are among the themes in many stories. Nala, an immortal mummy Vata (the spirit of water) and “the seasoned seducer of a thousand men”, has lived to the “young age of 202 years”. But in “The Living Infinite,” she lets her body grow old so that she can grow old with her human husband. “in dance” fia “Dance,” fresh single, “Hellfrikan” Chambu is open to new possibilities while dancing with a stranger at a wedding. “My sister warned me about the dangers of American girls,” he says. “I only Might be half American,” Chambu thinks to himself, “but I rub that half against what I deserve.” A young Muslim immigrant and ladies room attendant at a New York City nightclub, In “Night Beaks Us,” Zainab dances while no one is watching – or so she thinks.” She closes her eyes, her heart beat to 808 as she drowns in the music rippling from the walls goes, and loses herself.” Back home in Maroua, Cameroon, she lost her mother to a suicide bomber, another 16-year-old Muslim girl like her.

In the world of Nkweti, every relationship can come to a turning point, and part of the joy of these stories is the anticipation and satisfaction in the mess of those turns. In “Rain Check at Momocon”, a Cameroonian teenager named Astrid writes of “slash fan-fiction,” Luke Skywalker strokes Han Solo. light saber During the long and lonely desert nights on ‘Brokeback Tatooine’. She attends Comic Con at New York’s Javits Center with her “so-called friends,” Mimi and Mobola, and her real friend, creative partner and secret crush, Young “Money.” Like this This story will feature generations of black nerds, and the final scene will resonate with anyone ever tired of being pushed around. (Okay, the story is accompanied by a few pages of comics among the many illustrations included in the collection.)

In a gentle and daring twist, Nkweti’s stories upend racist stereotypes. But his writing flows so beautifully, and the complexities of his characters so central, that this myth-busting feels like a byproduct and not a mission. It seems that Nqueti’s mission is to have a lot of fun writing excellent stories about the people and places that matter to her. And we’re lucky, we get to read them. These are the stories of getting lost again and again.

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