It’s my turn on the BlogTour The Blunder by Mutt-Lon, translated by Amy B. Reid.
About the Author
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 acclaim 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.
About the Translator
Amy B. Reid is an award-winning translator who has worked with authors from Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Haiti. Among her translations are the Patrice Nganang titles Dog Days: An Animal Chronicle (2006) and the trilogy comprised of Mount Pleasant (2016), When the Plums Are Ripe (2019), and A Trail of Crab Tracks (2022), as well as Queen Pokou: Concerto for a Sacrifice (2009) and Far from My Father (2014) by Véronique Tadjo.
In 2016 she received a Literature Translation Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts for When the Plums Are Ripe. She holds a PhD in French from Yale University (1996) and is a professor of French and Gender Studies at New College of Florida.
About the book
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.
Damienne is both the main character and simultaneously the colonial example, ergo a perfect example of the irony and humour the author uses to bring readers this moment of important history. She embodies the white saviour, the colonial attitude towards indigenous people of all countries usurped, used and modified to embody foreign replicas of the home country.
She returns after over three decades to Cameroon, to the scene and aftermath of a terrible injustice and her the part she played in said injustice, and the attempt to stop bloodshed and tribal warfare.
When I read books like this, that have a factual core in the midst of the fiction, and one that has been swallowed into the black hole of history. Forgotten, as many fatal mistakes, atrocities, and in general inhumane acts in the name of colonial regimes. The victors write the history, and in doing so they often omit the details that don’t fit in with the white-washed written narrative.
The blunder of Jamot, as it is known, is one of these overlooked omissions – a tragedy that has probably become a bit of a tale of horror passed on through the generations. The need for some people to play the saviour supersedes the necessity for accountability when they make mistakes.
Some translators have the ability to translate both word and voice, which Reid certainly does very well, however I think I was more impressed with the fact its apparent the story was consumed and understood with such clarity. In fact the note by said translator at the end is the perfect add-on to a fascinating read.