Leonora Miano was born in Douala, Cameroon in 1973 and moved to Paris, France in 1991. She has written three fictional works in French, two which have been translated into Swedish, but only one in English. Miano has also gotten shockingly little attention. This puzzles me since Mianos works are so stunningly original and well written. She deserves a lot more notice as a writer than she has gotten.
Her debut novel, “L’Intérieur de la nuit” (”Nattens Inre” in Swedish, ”Dark Heart of the night” in English) tells the story of a young woman named Ayané who returns to her home village in the fictional African country Mboasu. Her arrival is not smiled upon, which makes her feel alienated. Most of the men in the village have gone away to work, leaving the village in a vulnerable state. As Ayané wonders off by herself, a group of militant men invade the village. Ayané, being lucky to have wandered off, is able to climb up into a tree, and is witness to the horrors the villagers suffer under the intruders.
The plot of the book sounds simple, but Miano does an interesting twist to the relationship between the villagers and the militants. These invaders who now infest the village want to “restore” old African cultures; however they have weird and delusional ideas of what African culture is. Their leader kills one of the villagers and starts to demand that the rest must eat him. The villagers in utter horror say they will do no such thing. The intruders do not listen to the villagers, which results in that the killed person is cooked and eaten in order to bring back African culture – despite the obvious fact that the African villagers have never practiced cannibalism in their entire history, and are disgusted by the idea. The act forced upon them is torture. The intruders are also African, but Miano hints that they may have been brainwashed by white travelers to believe old clichés about Africans, which in this case is the supposed Cannibalistic rituals. The reality being that the people in Mianos country never even heard of this kind of “tradition”.
Ayané watching the violence while hiding up in the tree is a perfect way to narrate the Novel’s macabre story. Ayené, like the reader, is an outsider to the village. She is a bystander, who knows that as soon as she can she must climb down from her hiding place and help the survivors. As a main character, Ayané was the perfect pick; easy to identify with yet in touch with the villagers.
Leonora Mianos third novel, “Contours du jour qui vient” (“Konturerar av den dag som nalkas” in Swedish. Don’t know what it would be in English…) centers a young girl named Musango. She is chased away by her mother, accused of having “the evil eye”. The novel begins when Musango is twelve, and hasn’t seen her mother in three years. Yet she still feels such a strong connection to her that throughout the entire novel she speaks with her mother as if they where communicating. On her journey to find her home again, Musango takes solitude in a local church- only to find out that the two priests running it are also involved in forced prostitution and enslave Musango. After spending a long time under their abuse, Musango is able to escape and tries to inform the authorities on the secret trafficking the priests are guilty of – only to realize that some people are so powerful they can get away with anything.
Mianos third novel is one of the most remarkable novels to have come out in the past years. It deals with many complex, rough issues, yet handles them delicately. Miano critiques the hypocrisy done by religious organizations as well as society’s habit of letting “important” people off the hook for serious crimes. She also pictures a country torn by civil battles and restlessness (the country this takes place in is the same as in her debut novel).
Musango represents the forgotten children in society. She is abandoned by her parents and other adults. No one wants to take responsibility of her. Musango also represents unconditional love a child can feel towards its parents. Musango is determined to be reunited with her mother, even if through her memories we find out that her mother tried to kill her before chasing her away. Yet Musango feels a need to meet her mother. As she states after escaping the priests secret brothel: “I will find you, Mother. And then I will say what you won’t believe is true. I will tell you I love you”. Unconditional love is a fascinating, if not tragic. Miano shows that a child’s undying love to a parent can be unbelievable painful. It is also unfair. However there is a disturbing beauty to it which touches you. A lot is written about a parent’s unconditional love to his/her child, but rarely can you see portrayals of the other way around. Amy Tan briefly explored it in her novel “The Joy Luck Club”, where one of the stories told by the Chinese women is of when her mother mutilated herself to cure the family’s grandmother, who constantly in return had insulted the mother. Also Brian De Palmas movie “Carrie” can be seen somewhat dealing with this issue. Carrie seems to, in one way, love her abusive mother, even if the treatment she receives from her mother drives her insane and into a killer. All of these tales capture the brutality of loving a mean parent, ultimately somehow destroying themselves in a big or small way.
Leonora Miano writes about the rawest subjects, but has a beautiful way of telling them. The novels are downright disturbing; what she is talking about is important and though provoking. I surely wish that more of her works will be translated into English as well as her second work will be translated into Swedish, due to her talent. Both her novels which I have read are nothing less than masterpieces.