[REVIEW] La Bastarda, By Trifonia Melibea Obono, translated by Lawrence Schimel

The simple, solid blue cover of La Bastarda is displayed on a tablet, held up against the twilight sky with the moon high and tiny above it.

(Buy this book here.)

This is the first book by a woman from Equatorial Guinea ever translated into English. It follows Okomo, a orphaned teen living in her grandparents house in a traditional village. With her mother dead and her father absent, she only has her favorite uncle to turn to when she begins to understand that she has no desire to make her grandparent’s wishes come true by marrying and having children. Unfortunately, her uncle lives in near exile for the crime of being a “man-woman” although Okomo’s developing desires lead her to wonder if she might be a “woman-man”.

Before reading this, I only knew two real things about Equatorial Guinea; it’s the only Spanish-speaking African nation and this book is banned there. The latter tells me more about the country than the actual book does, in some ways. Okomo isn’t all that unusual of a character. She’s like a lot of girls in books; orphaned, dreamy, smart and underappreciated. At times the book just seems to be her wandering around quietly observing her village and being villified for her parent’s sins. Sexuality is discussed frankly but not graphically, and so are violence and injustice. It’s a spare, quick portrait of a life in rural Central Africa–only about 100 pages long.

Okomo wanders, she thinks, she challenges expectations, and then SUDDEN LESBIAN ORGY (not a joke) and everything changes. The rest of the book is a maelstrom of dodging harm, searching for answers, and characters figuring out who they really are and accepting themselves as best as they can within the cultural strictures they know. It may seem that I’m speaking lightly of a story of injustice, but it doesn’t read that way at all. Something in Okomo, a certain quiet stubbornness, lets you know from the first that she’ll make it through to the end. This book, and its characters, accept that homophobia is real and dangerous but choose to exist openly and happily anyway. As you know, #ownnormal is my jam, so I enjoyed this. I was very intrigued by the perspective and story from a place and culture I know nothing about.

Freedom to wear short hair, no makeup, and kiss her girlfriend in public to La Bastarda.

(This book was a nice surprise. I like reading things that are very different to my own life and experience without being performative or didactic, and this fit the bill. If you also like reading that sort of book, check out the Equal Opportunity Bookshop or click around this blog. For legal reasons, I have to tell you that anything you buy from a link you find on this site results in a commission being paid to us. So buy! Buy everything! (or not). Whatever you do, have a great day and go read something good. Peace!)


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