Written by Faith Oneya
The rhetoric question:“Brother, what we black men who are called French?”Resonates in the mind of the reader long after he has finished the novel and makes him think about the possible implications of the statement. The words are uttered by Toundi, who leaves his family and the African way of life for a better life with the “superior” white man but ironically, he ends up being brutalized, oppressed, laughed at and dehumanized by the very people he had previously idolized.
Toundi runs away from home to seek refuge in the white man’s home. Father Gilbert who “treats him like a pet animal” and shows him off as his “masterpiece”. It is a relationship that is disgusting and dehumanizing to Toundi, though he does not realize this until it is too late.
He later on becomes the Commandant’s (Panther Eye’s) boy and he (Toundi) constantly refers to himself as “the thing that obeys”. The Commandant’s wife, however is a different story, and contributes to his newfound knowledge that the white man is after all, just a man. She repeatedly commits adultery and the locals say this in reference to her:
“A woman is a cob of maize for any mouth that has its teeth”.
It is also through his contact with other characters that Toundi is educated on the value of his own African culture and learns to shun the white man and his ways. Characters like the manservant Baklu who comments that the white man “ has no shame”, to the “shameless” Kalisia who wants to know if Toundi is sleeping with the Madame and even his interaction with Madame herself who feels that he “knows too much” and plots for his dramatic arrest – and thereafter he gets brutalized by the police, and traumatized by the doctor at the hospital has taken to who thinks a high temperature is “not too high for their kind” – until he finally runs away from the hospital and regrets having left home.
This is a thought-provoking work of prose that calls for a re-examination of ourselves, our self-worth and African values. The question of identity shouts at the reader from the beginning, remaining with him throughout.
The writer’s message seems to be that the whole agenda of Assimilation (black Frenchmen) was a sham and that nothing worthy of praise was to be gained from it, no wonder then that his tone remains satirical all through even though the novel is inexpressibly sad.