cover image Mount Pleasant

Mount Pleasant

Patrice Nganang, trans. from the French by Amy Baram Reid. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-374-21385-5

Nganang, born in Cameroon, brings to life his home country, one rocked by the forces of colonialism—first the Germans, then English, then French—through the strange, poetic, and fantastical memories of Sara, “the doyenne of Mount Pleasant.” In 1931 Sara, at the age of nine, is given by her mother to Sultan Njoya, the Bamum leader exiled by the French, and taken to the community at Mount Pleasant. Bertha, an academic in the present, is researching Cameroon’s history when she meets Sara, who had an influential Bertha in her past: breaking an eight-decade silence, Sara recounts how she came under the tutelage of Bertha, teacher and keeper of Sultan Njoya’s wives, and becomes transformed by her new master into the boy Nebu, Bertha’s son. Sara is physically transformed, dressing like a boy and stunting her breast growth with scalding rocks. The narrative is also transformed, allowing Nganang to show the turbulence of early Cameroon through the eyes of Bertha’s original son Nebu. Nganang’s story weaves from past to present, from one genre-bending tale to the next—a sculptor concerned with Platonic beauty, a man in a coma awakening to wildlife in a mystical waltz, a spirit haunting a cocoa plantation—from memory to dreams, from the first Nebu to the second, from history to fantasy: “paths that twisted and turned through unexpected lives, a paradise of surprises.” Readers will slowly uncover a history of Cameroon that parallels, mirrors, and subverts history in service of Nganang’s brilliant mythmaking. (Apr.)