A.J.'s Reviews > Houseboy

Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono
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Feb 03, 09

bookshelves: fiction
Read in February, 2009

There are a lot of reasons to like books. Some have great stories. Some have great prose. Some just strike a certain pitch or tone that inspires the reader, etc. It is a combination of several of these, not necessarily an achievement in one, that makes me feel compelled to give this novel four stars. Houseboy follows the narrative of a young African named Toundi. A series of events brings him into the world of white foreigners where he begins to learn hard lessons about just how cruel men can be to each other, particularly when they don't see each other as men, let alone equals.

Books like this aren't always fun to read. They're interesting, make no mistake, but they shed a pretty sickly light on aspects of humanity that most of us would rather not think about. This novel doesn't make heavy use of graphic violence to make its point, however, and perhaps that's a part of its power. Through clean, razor-sharp prose it places a kind of microscope on Africa during the age of imperialism. The dark absurdity of white interference in Toundi's world becomes readily apparent and deeply shocking.

More than anything else, this book is just well written. The prose wastes no time, plays no games, and lays things flat on the table. Toundi's voice is clear and concise, and for that reason the world can't help but feel realistic, and that realism in turn fuels thought, empathy, and understanding. There's little else you can ask of an author.
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