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Houseboy

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3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,823 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Toundi Ondoua, the rural African protagonist of Houseboy, encounters a world of prisms that cast beautiful but unobtainable glimmers, especially for a black youth in colonial Cameroon. Houseboy, written in the form of Toundi's captivating diary and translated from the original French, discloses his awe of the white world and a web of unpredictable experiences. Early on, he ...more
Paperback, 122 pages
Published August 15th 1991 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1956)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,823 ratings  ·  119 reviews


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Cheryl
Nov 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I feel as if I've been in the presence of an underrated African classic. Cameroonian novelist and diplomat, Oyono, was visiting Guinea (during the time it was the colony Spanish Guinea), when he came across one of his countrymen. Later, he would be given the diary (or exercise book) of Toundi, a houseboy on the run. He translated the book from its original language, Ewondo, stating that he "tried to keep the richness of the original language without letting it get in the way of the story itself. ...more
Henry Ozogula
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing

This novel, which was written decades ago is haunting and very powerful, evoking the colonial situation in black Africa in the past. It is very funny and very sombre and sad at the same time. The protagonist, the main narrator is naïve and fascinated by the "gleam" of white life and privilege (to use a word - gleam - beloved by the great Ayi Kwei Armah). Toundi believes great vistas are opening up for him by being the houseboy of one of the white colonial administrators. The author brilliantly e
...more
Diane Brown
Dec 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african-books
A beautifully written book that tells a story that moves from one point to the other effortlessly with deep contextualization of imperial Cameroon and the African condition; mainly embedded in the dialogues. It is an easy read that exposes the absurdities and brutalities of colonizers in Africa and the world Europeans created for themselves in Africa (almost cocooned).
It also shows the progression of the main character from being "in awe" of the colonizers, and at times feeling different to or
...more
Monica **can't read fast enough**
I'm having a bit of a hard time rating this one. Toundi's story is troubling but engaging. The things that Toundi accepts as just a part of life as a black boy in Cameroon during this time period is sad and frustrating. The malice and pettiness that impacts Toundi's daily life from a young age made me want to grind my teeth just reading the descriptions. The story is told well but the ending is pretty abrupt. There is more that I would have like to have gotten in order for the story to come full ...more
Betty Asma
Feb 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Book 29 of the African Writer's Series depicts the despotic, cruel treatment of native Cameroonians in French Cameroun, the former League of Nations's mandate. The perspective is that of Toundi. The book is in the form of a diary although the reading is fluid like a novel is. Toundi left home as soon as he could do so and a priest Father Gilbert sheltered him. Eventually, the solitary Commandant hires him as his Houseboy. The former is rough but eventually softens his attitude to Toundi and appr ...more
Pamela
Sep 02, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
French colonials could be awfully nasty.

Since I knew this already, I didn't come away with any new insights from this book -- nor was I especially moved by the prose. Perhaps Oyono's work almost seems cliche nowadays, which is certainly not his fault. As one of the founders of the negritude movement, Oyono deserves props for being one of the early writers of the colonial experience, from a native perspective.

I do wish that the female character was better developed. She was simply nasty, rather
...more
Jamila
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A journal written in Ewondo, the indigenous language of the Maka, translated by its founder into French. Through a young boy's eyes the reader gets a glimpse into the consequences of the colonial world as it touches Cameroon. Pay close attention to notions of propriety, whiteness, violence, sight and knowledge, and secret forms of resistance (through music, feigning understanding, feigning incomprehension, etc.) This novel is very written with subtlety, making it a compelling and challenging rea ...more
Emma Phillips
I didn’t want to rate this since I read it for class... this book is fine, and I get why we read it, but I don’t know that I’d recommend it to anyone else. Very meh, but talk about a cliffhanger at the end!
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Another world fiction challenge book, my fourth in a month; I'm overdosed on these right now and need to take a break.

This novella is purportedly the diary of a Cameroonian "houseboy" (actually a young man, though we never learn his age), which as it is fiction, of course doesn't read like any real diary ever written. He becomes the servant of a powerful colonist, learns more about the whites than they're comfortable having him know, and it turns out badly for him. This book was originally publi
...more
A.J.
Jan 28, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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 ...more
Priscilla Mensah
Aug 19, 2011 rated it liked it
i read this book as part of my English literature in school, and i must say that even though the idea of colonialism is not a new concept, it is quite well written. there are many books on the topic of colonialism that are better written but i think that for a translation, it is quite good and the story is catching. i did not really relate to the characters because there wasn't much development and they were a bit lacking in depth. i guess though that since it is a short book this is excusable. ...more
Vanessa
A great, short read. Deals with the issue of colonialism in Africa, and the greatest and most tragic contradiction there is-young, educated, Christian black men (and women) struggling to be like their colonizers, the ones who turned their lives upside down & erased their culture - in this case, the French. The story is in the format of a diary , told from the perspective of Toundi, a young Cameroon who runs away from his abusive father in a tribal setting opting to grow up in the church around w ...more
Rebecca Lawrence
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's a first-person diary account of the boy's life from his father's house to the final days. The story of a Cameroonian boy during the height of colonization who thought life would be better with the colonizers than under his father's strict rules. He becomes a head priest's assistant, but after his death, the boy becomes the servant of a commander/politician/colonizer. Then things fall apart. Completely. He realizes the true value of his skin color. Quick read. 122 pages that flows well. Hone ...more
Kuda
Apr 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book when I was sixteen. It is a beautiful soul stirring piece that captures colonial Africa in its real form. An absolute masterpiece.
Cristina
Nov 23, 2013 rated it it was ok
I could probably like this book, if I didn't have to read it for class. ...more
Kobe Bryant
Jun 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
I liked how easy going the guy was, no whining here
Beverley
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Samoyes
Sep 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
I just finished this book, and should probably wait to write a review, but wow! This book does such a good job of emphasizing the hypocrisy and abuse laden in colonial power. In so few pages, this book casts a magnifying light on the everyday humiliations and violence that fills up the experience of colonialism. The choice to have a houseboy, this middle figure of sorts between Europeans and others, is such a clever device. The book is peopled with these African middle figures, so to speak, who ...more
Whitlaw Tanyanyiwa Mugwiji
Apr 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, novels, african
Houseboy is an interesting novel about Toundi, who runs away from an abusive father and goes into the care of missionaries. Though short, the novel touches on several key themes such as identity, alienation and oppression of black people and Christian hypocrisy as exhibited by the colonialists.

The story is narrated by a "French man" from French Guinea who was on vacation in Spanish Guinea. The "French man" finds Toundi dying and thereafter discovers the dying man's diary. Thus, the whole novel
...more
AfroLit
Jul 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
The beginning of the book starts with this over the top dramatic character, funny, kinda slapstick. Then moves to let's just show white people what they want, like be Christian, Catholic, and in service to you. Ugh. Exhausting....i have nothing else. ...more
Cooper Burton
Feb 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
4 🌟

Exposing and powerful, but left me wishing for more depth and character development. Regardless, is well-earning of its place in the African literature hall of fame.
Victoria Nunoo
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Andrew
Mar 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
An interesting novella which captures life under French colonial rule in Cameroon. The opening chapter finds the narrator hearing news of a man dying in a local village, when he investigates he finds the man and the narrator is by his side as he dies , it is evident the dying man has been the victim of a violent attack. When he dies the narrator is given two exercise books which make up the diary of Toundi who has been houseboy in the home of the French commandant of a Cameroon town. The rest of ...more
Melanie
Mar 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm not going to pretend that I have extensive historical knowledge of the colonization of Cameroon, but for those with an interest in postcolonial literature, this should be on your "must read" list. I first read it about ten years ago in one of my undergrad courses on African novels, but I decided to reread it as one of the works in translations I'll be teaching for my IB English course next year. The story begins with a Frenchman in Spanish Guinea who encounters the narrator, Toundi Ondoua, a ...more
Nambou
May 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Colonialism in Cameroon through the eyes of a houseboy.

There is something really profound and moving about: 1. this book- written in 1956 by a then 27 year old Cameroonian in colonized Cameroon, 2. its story- focusing on he life of a houseboy- who were supposed to be 'invisible', and who focused on the lives of its masters. What an irony.

Oyono's writing style is simple and poetic at times, I loved the form through which the story is told- a diary and I particularly loved the way the main chara
...more
Li Sian
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this novel by Oyono, my first - I'm probably going to look for more of his work. I think the part about this novel that struck me the most was that while it managed to be sad and subtle, in terms of storyline and characters (esp the white characters), it combined that sad, quiet, subtlety with these casual little asides of brutality. (view spoiler) ...more
Val
Aug 09, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-tour
I love the way this is written, for example:
"M. Janopoulos doesn't like natives. He likes to set his huge Alsatian on them. This causes a great stampede and amuses the ladies."
The book is written in the form of a diary by a houseboy, as he ages from quite young to adult. (Most of the book covers a short time, when he is an adult, although we get his earlier life recorded first.) It is very dark and very funny. His observations of the various colonists are sharp and cutting. His own story is very
...more
Dora Okeyo
Nov 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A friend once told me that 'you can never be disappointed by an African story because it's rich of proverbs.'
I didn't listen to him as much, because he missed out on other factors that make a great story.

So, when he recommended this book, I decided why not?

I was not disappointed, in fact I loved how well told and straight to the point this story is. It's Toundi's diary, a Cameroonian Houseboy, working for his European masters. He is taken in by their way of life and with time he realizes that a
...more
AJ Payne
Oct 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Read this one for work book club.

This one was pretty great. I loved the subtle (and I suppose at times really not so subtle) satire of colonialism, and written from the view of the colonized rather than the colonizer. So it was the perfect way to get at the absurdity of whit colonists in Africa in the behavior and thought processes. And, it still expertly shows that in Africa the colonized understood the mindset of the colonizer much better than could ever happen the other way around. I mean, as
...more
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Ferdinand Léopold Oyono was an author from Cameroon whose work is recognized for irony that shows how easily people can be fooled. Beginning in the 1960s, he had a long career of service as a diplomat and as a minister in the government, ultimately serving as Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1992 to 1997 and then as Minister of State for Culture from 1997 to 2007.

Oyono's novels were written in Fre
...more

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