When the Plums Are Ripe

Farrar. Aug. 2019. 368p. ISBN 9780374288990. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374719302. F
Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé, boasts a short plum season. Fruit unsold at day’s end is discarded in the street, to be crushed underfoot. So too, are the tirailleurs sénégalais, the young Cameroonian men enticed with false promises into the Free French infantry fighting Italy during World War II. Poorly trained, these boys are sacrificed on the battle lines, cannon fodder for a cause not even theirs. In his difficult and disturbing new novel, after Mount Pleasant, Nganang exposes the evils of colonialism and the ramifications of violence for his native country, which suffered under the thumbs of three European powers. The story unfurls through the lives and friendship of two real-life characters, narrator Pouka, a pro-France poet and teacher, and Um Nyobi, a union leader and anticolonialist who eventually becomes the leader of the Resistance. Their heated debates reflect the bifurcated loyalties between Francophone and Anglophone Cameroonians that plague the country and the author to this day—serious subject matter tempered with bursts of droll humor.
VERDICT A Stony Brook literature professor and an award-winning poet, Nganang is a political force whose experiences in Cameroon inform every page of this novel. Some will find it long on screed and short on plot. But for those who appreciate how fiction illuminates history, this book will be an eye-opener. [See Prepub Alert, 2/4/19.]

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