9 April 2017

Cameroon: How to Cook Your Husband, the African Way

Paris, the city of love, is the setting for How to Cook your Husband the African Way, by Calixthe Beyala. In it, the Cameroonian-French writer takes a hilarious look at the shenanigans of a woman out to snare a husband.

Aissatou is single, living in Paris, and working as a toilet cleaner at the man-made beaches along the River Seine. She is looking for a husband and becomes infatuated with her flamboyant neighbour, Suleiman Bolobolo. He comes from Mali, has a string of beautiful girlfriends and has never paid much attention to Aissatou.

After years of living in Europe, Aissatou questions her identity.

"I am, as I said, not sure when I became white... because to be white you've got to be thin... I measure my life by my waist."

So when a guru reveals to Aissatou that the reason for her single status is because she is too thin, she decides that the best way to Bolobolo's heart is through his stomach.

However, her "best friend" Eric believes that cooking for Bolobolo is a bad idea that will only bring her heartache, but she ignores his concerns.

In the story, we meet colourful characters, some of whom live in her apartment building, Bolobolo's mother and his girlfriend.

Written in the first-person, Beyala uses witty and occasionally lusty language to tell a straightforward but well-written love story steeped in talk of mouth-watering dishes.

At the end of each chapter, there are exotic recipes; sea bream with peppers, turtle with green plantain, boa in banana leaves and porcupine with the nuts of wild mango. The book portrays how food and cooking are powerful ingredients in human relations.

"Food... may be the only thing that will bring peace and reconciliation to humankind," says Aissatou.

The book is also a social commentary on race relations in Europe, African identity in the diaspora, and the complexities of marriage. It follows on her other books, The sun hath looked upon me, and Your name shall be Tanga, that talk about the challenges faced by African women and advocate for their rights.

Beyala, 56, was born in Cameroon and grew up listening to her grandmother's stories. She now lives in France where she is an acclaimed writer, and has won awards from Unicef and the Academie Francaise.

She has published more than 15 books and won several awards. She writes in French and her books are translated into English.


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