Max Lobe’s Book ‘A Long Way From Doula’ Receiving Praise

A LONG WAY FROM DOUALA, a newly translated novel by author Max Lobe

Photos: Book Cover\BookBlast

A LONG WAY FROM DOUALA, a newly translated novel by author Max Lobe (originally published in French, in 2018) set in 2014 against the looming threat of Boko Haram is a tale woven of both fraught, wild danger and love, hope and humor has been receiving rave reviews.

In his English-language debut, acclaimed Cameroonian-Swiss author Max Lobe, employs terse, lively chapters, to chart the journey of teenagers Jean and Simon as they leave home and set out on an odyssey, in search of Jean’s brother, Roger, who has fled Douala to pursue his dream of soccer stardom in Europe. Moments of levity sit alongside turns of tragedy as Lobe vividly weaves the culture of Cameroon, from Makossa (a type of bass-heavy music), to tourne-dos (roadside restaurants) and the marrying of Camfranglais vernacular into the narrative—a hybrid tongue that blends French, English, Pidgin, and languages local to Cameroon, of which there are more than 200. Part travelogue and part coming-of-age tale, Lobe’s singular, comedic voice sparkles and anchors this memorable debut. Situated at the intersection of grief, sexual identity, and familial bonds, A LONG WAY FROM DOUALA poignantly examines the universal forces that connect us.

A LONG WAY FROM DOUALA opens with the death of Jean and Roger’s father, an incident that spurs Roger to flee his family. When local authorities decline to help locate Roger, Jean enlists his childhood friend Simon, to help recover his lost brother. Putting their university studies on hold, they make their way north toward the Nigerian border. Like others in Central and West Africa seeking a better life in Europe, Roger is attempting a border-crossing, or boza (“victory,” thought to be derived from Wolof or Bambara). Along the way, Jean and Simon travel by bus, car, and train, and consult the assistance of memorable players ranging from Sita Mpondo, a cousin of Jean’s mother, to an enigmatic Facebook contact known only as the “White Queen”. Although Jean and Simon’s journey leaves them with more questions than answers, it ultimately unearths several previously burrowed secrets: Jean reckons with his growing attraction to Simon—whose occasional gestures of comfort and affection confuse him—a dangerous revelation in a country where homosexuality is illegal, while a story Simon shares allows the true seed of family animosities between Jean’s missing brother and his mother to surface.

“Jean, an 18-year-old Cameroonian, confronts the threat of terrorism, police corruption, and his awakening sexuality as he searches for his older brother…In light of Boko Haram attacks, unsavory street characters, and the mostly Muslim northerners’ deep-seated hostility toward Christian southerners, the road north is paved with danger…There’s a lot to unpack in this short novel, but Lobe leavens his dark political themes and cultural commentary with a breezy narrative style, entertaining pop-culture references, and off-color humor…This is the Geneva-based Lobe’s first book to appear in English, and it should open the door to more translations of his work. An entertaining, decidedly offbeat coming-of-age story.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

​​​“Lobe’s poignant tale weaves into a bustling Cameroonian tapestry and explores the complexity of family relationships, love, identity, and dreams. We understand why some people run away from home and why they may never look back.” —Yejide Kilanko, author of A Good Name

“A Long Way from Douala presents readers with nuances of contemporary Cameroon in an age of social media where competing motives related to religion, sport (football), and familial dynamics shift our expectations of the coming-of-age novel. Enlightening for its function as a domestic travel narrative as well as a political survey of the terrorist threats of Boko Haram, the novel reorients us to the meaning of brotherhood and to what drives young people toward migration to Europe. The novel is like a new folklore with updated riddles to challenge us to decipher the best course of action along life’s journey and its crossroads.” —Christel N. Temple, Professor of Africana Studies, University of Pittsburgh

About the author: Max Lobe was born in Douala, Cameroon. At eighteen he moved to Switzerland, where he earned a BA in communication and journalism, and a master’s in public policy and administration. In 2017 his novel Confidences won the Ahmadou Kourouma Prize. A Long Way from Douala, his latest novel, was published in 2018 to rave reviews in Switzerland and France. He is the founder of the Genev’Africa program, which promotes literary and cultural exchange between French-speaking Switzerland and Africa. He lives in Geneva.

About the translator: Ros Schwartz is an award-winning translator of more than a hundred works of fiction and nonfiction, including the 2010 edition of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. Among the francophone authors she has translated are Tahar Ben Jelloun, Aziz Chouaki, Fatou Diome, Dominique Eddé, and Ousmane Sembène. In 2009 she was made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and in 2017 she was awarded the John Sykes Memorial Prize for Excellence by the UK-based Institute of Translation and Interpreting

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