Mongo Beti Robert P. Smith, Jr. - Essay

Robert P. Smith, Jr.

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In La ruine presque cocasse d'un polichinelle] Mongo Béti again evokes admiration for the patriot Ruben Um Nyobé, leader of the opposition in Cameroun, whose memory has been preserved in at least two of the author's previous novels (Perpétue and [Remember Ruben] …), and he also continues an account of life under the regime of the insensitive tyrant Baba Toura, a mysterious President of the Republic whose evil shadow hovered over the events in the two previous novels. Toura's administration, which fosters famine, misery, persecution and corruption in the wake of African independence, is perpetuated by evil characters in the novels against whom heroic protagonists struggle constantly so that justice may prevail.

The present novel recounts the adventures of Mor-Zamba, who leaves the capital of the republic accompanied by two other faithful Rubenists, Mor-Kinda and Evariste, charged with the task of organizing the resistance…. The novel takes on a "Robin Hood" atmosphere when the three resolute Rubenists set out on their long journey, robbing the rich and giving to the poor, outwitting the oppressors and conveying courage to the oppressed. Justice triumphs at the end of this lengthy novel after many intricate, thought-provoking, serious and picaresque adventures.

The novel, which Béti has labeled "Remember Ruben 2," is divided into three parts and an epilogue. The author is still a master of French prose when it is a question of portraying major and minor African characters and when he is criticizing Catholic missionaries. The portrayal of the patronizing, hypocritical and finally demented Father Van Den Reitter in the extended part two will certainly remain one of the best in Béti's gallery of portraits. The book is not without its flaws, for sometimes the author burdens his narrative with excessive detail and repetition; however, his storytelling technique remains vibrant and captivating. Of particular interest is the author's sympathetic treatment of African women, especially the character of the militant and proud Ngwane-Eligui la Jeune. Except for the three colorful Rubenists, it is the women in this novel who take it upon themselves to raise the standard of dignity, because fear and lack of self-respect have killed courage in the hearts of the African men.

Robert P. Smith, Jr., "Cameroun," in World Literature Today (copyright 1982 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 56, No. 1, Winter, 1982, p. 162.