Friday, 18 May 2018

Awu's Story by Justine Mintsa

Awu's Story by Justine Mintsa
First published in French as Histoire d'Awu in France by Gallimard in 2000. English language translation by Cheryl Toman published in America by University of Nebraska Press in May 2018.

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Where to buy this book:

The Book Depository : from £13.99 (PB)
Wordery : from £11.24 (PB)
Waterstones : from £13.99 (PB)
Amazon : from $8.98 / £10.99 (used PB)
Prices and availability may have changed since this post was written

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, villages in the Fang region of northern Gabon must grapple with the clash of tradition and the evolution of customs throughout modern Africa. With this tension in the background, the passionate, deft, and creative seamstress Awu marries Obame, after he and his beloved wife, Bella, have been unable to conceive. Because all three are reluctant participants in this arrangement, theirs is an emotionally fraught existence. Through heartbreaking and disastrous events, Awu grapples with long-standing Fang customs that counter her desire to take full control of her life and home.

Supplemented with a foreword and critical introduction highlighting Justine Mintsa’s importance in African literature, Awu’s Story is an essential work of African women’s writing and the only published work to meditate this deeply on some of the Fang’s most cherished legends and oral history.

Awu's Story, in this edition, begins with informative introductions by Therese Kuoh-Moukhoury and Cheryl Toman. While I did appreciate these immensely - they give a lot of additional background to the novella and to Gabonese literature in general - I would recommend not tackling them until after reading the book itself. In their explanations of incidents in Awu's Story I thought they gave away too much of what was to come.

Awu's Story explores the changing roles of women in Fang society and how the pioneers of these changes struggle against their society's expectations and the conservative traditions with which they have been raised. We view a series of events over several years affecting primarily Awu, her sister-in-law and her niece. Through these we see Awu grow in confidence and maturity. She chooses her battles wisely though and I found it interesting to learn which traditions she chose to uphold. Not everything is cast aside in the name of progress and, as a former French colony, Gabon has its share of post-colonial disasters such as the state of its maternity hospital.

I liked Mintsa's writing very much. She has created strong and memorable female characters, both ones with which I could empathise and ones who irritated or angered me. However my problem with Awu's Story and the reason it didn't hit a full five star rating is its brevity. A short volume overall, once the introductions were out the way it didn't feel to me that I really had enough time to get fully immersed in the tale before it was over. I could have happily have read many more pages about Awu's life.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Justine Mintsa / Contemporary fiction / Books from Gabon


  1. Yes, sometimes length can hinder a story. I do like that the author was able to present characters you became invested in whether you liked them or not.

    1. I felt that this story needed more length. Individual scenes are beautifully portrayed, but there are jumps between them.