Summary and book reviews of When the Plums Are Ripe by Patrice Nganang

When the Plums Are Ripe

by Patrice Nganang

When the Plums Are Ripe by Patrice Nganang X
When the Plums Are Ripe by Patrice Nganang
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2019, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2020, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Karen Lewis
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About this Book

Book Summary

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.

1
June Vacation Back in the Village

"To make a long story short," M'bangue concluded, crossing his hands on his knees, "that's how Hitler committed suicide."

Then he began to describe the deceased dictator, his blue jacket, his black tie, the barricaded toilets whose doors had to be broken down to get him out. Everyone was staring, their mouths agape, especially Pouka, who no longer recognized his father, whose hands were now tracing outrageous symbols, expansive symbols. The seer's face was lit up for an instant, then his eyes quickly disappeared into the fractals that his fingers had traced on the ground, into the geomantic mystery of the signs that gave shape to his pronouncements. No one called his word into doubt, for who could challenge his dream? Until that moment it had been nothing more than monologues, whispers, and murmurs: a spitting of distant sounds that evolved into words in the hollow of his belly.

"In the toilets," he continued, "mark my word."

No, Pouka no longer ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

When the Plums Are Ripe joins other global fiction now available in translation that illuminates places and cultures often inaccessible to and misunderstood by Western readers. Throughout his work, the poet-novelist traces out glimmers of hope in what he terms the "chiasmus" of war. This novel will likely appeal to readers who enjoy the intellectual scope and enduring, multicultural themes of authors like García Márquez, Murakami, Rushdie, Solzhenitsyn, or Soyinka...continued

Full Review (909 words).

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(Reviewed by Karen Lewis).

Media Reviews

Washington Post
Nganang’s second novel in a trilogy about Cameroon takes place as the nation is forced into World War II and caught between Vichy and the Free French. The plot and action are matched by the author’s powerful take on the damage colonialism inflicts for generations.

BookPage
The tone of some plot developments is too outlandish for the rest of the book, but When the Plums Are Ripe is a moving tribute to a people so little regarded that, as Nganang’s narrator puts it, if they appeared in Hollywood movies, they’d have no speaking parts, 'their story told by a narrator off-screen—someone like me.'

Publishers Weekly
With lyrical, soaring prose, Nganang...[challenges] the Euro-written history of colonialism and replacing it with a much-needed African one. The result is a challenging but indispensable novel.

Library Journal
Nganang is a political force whose experiences in Cameroon inform every page of this novel...For those who appreciate how fiction illuminates history, [When the Plums Are Ripe] will be an eye-opener.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
History is our one true mistress,' Nganang ventures, but that mistress is unfaithful. A brilliant, beguiling story.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

Cameroon: Past, Present and Future

CameroonLocated in West-Central Africa, Cameroon is about the size of California, with an estimated population of 25 million. The country's two main cities are Yaoundé, the capital, and Douala, a major industrial port along the Gulf of Guinea in the South Atlantic. It borders many nations: Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, and Chad. There are two official languages: French (spoken by about 80% of the population) and English (spoken by about 20%). In addition, 238 ethnic groups such as the Fulani, Bassa, and Medumba speak their own distinct mother tongues. Camfranglais is a modern, informal dialect, popularized by musicians and urban youth. It borrows words from several languages, especially French ...

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