Title – La Bastarda
Author – Trifonia Melibea Obono
Translator – Lawrence Schimel
Publication – August 2018.
Publisher – Modjaji Books
Genre – African LGBT+ Literary Fiction
The first novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman to be translated into English, La Bastarda is the story of the orphaned teen Okomo, who lives under the watchful eye of her grandmother and dreams of finding her father. Forbidden from seeking him out, she enlists the help of other village outcasts: her gay uncle and a gang of “mysterious” girls reveling in their so-called indecency. Drawn into their illicit trysts, Okomo finds herself falling in love with their leader and rebelling against the rigid norms of Fang culture.
First of all, even though I am extremely thrilled La Bastarda was translated into English, I still feel like I’m missing its full magic, I can only imagine how beautiful it would read in its original language if only I understood Spanish.
La Bastarda by Trifonia Melibea Obono is the first novel by a female Equatorial Guinean author that has been translated into English. It’s an amazing fit because of this book is African, loudly queer and proud!
I haven’t read or known about many published fictional works featuring African queers in African nations written by African queers in Africa nations, so when I read the blurb I knew I needed to read it a bonus because it’s not a lot of pages, so I knew it would be an enjoyable and quick read.
Judging from the title it’s obvious the main character has been labelled La Bastarda, a bastard, not knowing her father/unwanted by her father Okomo is a sixteen-year-old girl living in a small rural Fang village in Equatorial Guinea. She is being raised by her grandparents after her mother died giving birth to her outside of wedlock. How she wishes she knew who her father was, but he’s a taboo topic that only brought the wrath of her maternal family if she brought it up.
A Fang woman is worthy if her womb is fruitful, if her hair and face is made up beautifully to attract men-especially a rich man, to feed him, marry him and keep them in her bed, while giving birth to children and maintaining the household, with little or no physical/mental assistance from the man, who is very good at posturing, boasting and wasting the day away with their fellow man friends.
The culture and traditions of the Fang people in the village are so deeply embedded in them, it is all overzealous. Which is why they frown upon the man-woman, Okomo’s Uncle Marcelo, she is too young to understand he is gay, nevertheless, Okomo loves him with all her heart because he is the only family member of hers that treats her with love and affection, one who loves her unconditionally.
One day she follows three girls that her grandma has warned her away from because they are ‘indecent’ into the forest to fetch woods and there she becomes friends with the girls who are just like her, lesbians. They make her understand that there is nothing wrong in loving a girl even though they know they would face the wrath of their village of if they are ever discovered, they also explain to her why the village hates her uncle.
She develops deep feeling for one of the girls, who returns the feelings for her, this love although freeing is very dangerous and they all pay the price for it in the end, because even though the village acknowledges that there is such a thing as a man-woman, they don’t even want to acknowledge that there could be a relationship between women, that didn’t include a man.
There is more to the story, but what I have written is enough.
The pacing of the story is fast, and it felt like I was drifting through time and just seeing things through the surface, there’s no deep character development, but the message the story is sharing is very clear and I stand by it. The story is easy enough to read and I am very glad that I have read it and I hope more people read it because it’s wonderfully translated and edited.
Quick fact: This book is a Banned Book, Equatorial Guinea has banned the book because queerness is such a scary and dangerous thing in many African nations *eyes rolling*