The Blunder by @muttlon #BlogTour @fmcmassociates

Today I am hosting a translated fiction release by Mutt-Lon, The Blunder.

The Blurb

From a bold voice in African fiction comes a satirical and unputdownable reimagining of an overlooked episode in Cameroon’s colonial past.

Cameroon, 1929. As colonial powers fight for influence in Africa, French military surgeon Eugène Jamot is dispatched to Cameroon to lead the fight against sleeping sickness there. But despite his humanitarian intentions, the worst comes to pass: seven hundred local villagers are left blind as a result of medical malpractice by a doctor under Jamot’s watch.

Damienne Bourdin, a young white woman, ventures to Cameroon to assist in the treatment effort. Reeling from the loss of her child, she’s desperate to redeem herself and save her reputation. But the tides of rebellion are churning in Cameroon, and soon after Damienne’s arrival, she is enlisted in a wild plot to staunch the damage caused by the blunder and forestall tribal warfare. Together with Ndongo, a Pygmy guide, she must cross the country on foot in search of Edoa, a Cameroonian princess and nurse who has gone missing since the medical blunder was discovered.

As Damienne races through the Cameroonian forest on a farcical adventure that unsettles her sense of France’s “civilizing mission,” she begins to question her initial sense of who needed saving and who would save the day.

You are lucky enough to read an extract from The Blunder here, today!

Damienne Bourdin’s first priority, as she emerged from the airport, was to track down the Pygmy guide who’d saved her life in 1929. She hadn’t set foot in Cameroon for thirty-two years, and wondered if it might be a waste of time to look for him. Most of the protagonists of “the blunder” were no longer living, and the guide might have died too, like Dr. Jamot and native chief Atangana. It was important she find out, because if that strange fellow was still alive, Damienne wouldn’t dare return to the scene of the revolt without him.
The France-Soir she was leafing through mentioned a monument in honor of Dr. Jamot in front of the Ministry of Public Health and also the facilities he’d left behind in 1931, now a hospital bearing his name. In the taxi on the way to the hospital, she kept her nose glued to the window. How Yaoundé had changed! There was asphalt in the city center, electricity, a big traffic circle, and people weren’t wandering around in loincloths. Some blocks of houses still had mud walls, but only a few were thatched or had roofs covered in straw or woven raffia mats. Buildings were going up, Peugeots and Renaults racing around them every which way, like ants. Drivers shouted through open windows as they passed each other on either side, but Damienne didn’t mind the chaos, she was just relieved she wouldn’t have to walk the whole way to Bafia this time.
The area around the hospital was completely transformed, not one landmark from her time there survived. Still, Damienne recognized the hospital itself right away. She noticed as she approached that no additions had been made; at most, they’d slapped a coat of lime on a few walls.
Inside, she found that Dr. Jamot’s apartment had become the radiology department, and the room where she’d spent the night was now a pulmonologist’s office. Since sleeping sickness had been largely eradicated, the Jamot Hospital focused on psychiatry and fighting tuberculosis—there were sickly people with emaciated faces everywhere. Damienne offered a prayer that this new prevention campaign, unlike the last, would be blunder free, and that no other French doctor would experience what she’d lived through under Dr. Jamot.
The director of the hospital was reading a newspaper, its front page dedicated to President Kennedy, assassinated six days earlier. He greeted Damienne with the particular courtesy reserved for those who regularly appear in the press. He was honored to meet her, he’d read almost all of her books, and particularly loved the last one, about the Jamot Mission, for which she’d won numerous prizes. Since the book was about to be made into a film, he offered to put the hospital facilities at the disposal of the film crew. Damienne was obliged to answer all his admiring questions, and even accept an invitation for dinner with him and his wife, before she could raise the subject she had come to discuss. Was the Pygmy still alive? After what felt like an eternity, the director gathered all the hospital personnel together, and they found an old nurse who said he’d met Ndongo, the Pygmy in question. T
he nurse had last seen him toward the end of the 1930s, before Ndongo went home to Bipindi.
So Damienne went to Bipindi to look for him. Bipindi was in a part of the bush that hadn’t changed for thousands of years, and Damienne thought to herself that in some ways, the town seemed more backward than the remote villages she’d gone through back in 1929. Here, everyone was a hunter, even the women, and no one needed to go far from their home to hunt game. One inquiry and two false leads later, the Pygmy was found. Ndongo was alive. When at last she saw him, Damienne
hugged and kissed him without hesitation, and burst into tears before his whole surprised clan. Ndongo hadn’t changed much, still wiry and stunted, but now an old man. Like Damienne’s, the skin on his hands was paper thin. He lived with his wife and children in mungulus, huts made of branches and green leaves, which she’d once seen him build in just a few minutes, on that unforgettable day when they were lost in the forest . . .
What struck her most was his attire: Ndongo still wore a loincloth fashioned from an animal hide. He was bare chested and had the same amulets tied around his waist and biceps as he’d worn on the day they’d said farewell. She couldn’t believe it! In his small, lively eyes, Damienne saw a flash of that primitive man she remembered so well. There was one remarkable change: Ndongo spoke French. She was almost chagrined that she no longer needed to act things out for him.
He agreed to go with her to Bafia.

My Review

An interesting book based on a historical event, but with a fictional twist.
Mutt-Lon has taken the little-known pandemic of Sleeping Sickness that swept Cameroon in the early 2oth century and its subsequent mishandling by a white doctor and added his own flavour.
We follow the story through the eyes of another white doctor, female, Damienne Bourdin, who is sent to help ease tensions in the villages where it has become apparent that the incorrect treatment by one particular doctor has resulted in many natives getting better from the pandemic, but ending up blind.
Reading fiction that has been translated is always hard, as the passion that comes through the native tongue of a writer is tough to replicate in other languages, however, the translator has done a pretty good job of giving a true feel for the story and the characters.
There is a little jumping around within the story, in terms of the present and the past, and sometimes points of view are a little erratic, but, once I got into the story, I really wanted to know what happened at the end, and whether everything was resolved!

Mutt-Lon is the literary pseudonym of author Nsegbe Daniel Alain. His first novel Ceux qui sortent dans la nuit (Those Who Come Out At Night, 2013), brought him critical claim when it received the prestigious Ahmadou Kourouma Prize in 2014. Les 700 aveugles de Bafia (2020), published in English as The Blunder, is his third novel and the first to be translated into English. He lives in Douala – Cameroon’s most international and cosmopolitan city – and speaks English fluently

Amy B. Reid is an award-winning translator who has worked with authors from Cameroon, Côts d’Ivoire, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti.

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