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When the Plums Are Ripe

by Patrice Nganang | Translated by Amy B. Reid Farrar

In Cameroon, plum season is a highly anticipated time of year. But for the narrator of When the Plums Are Ripe, the poet Pouka, the season reminds him of the “time when our country had discovered the root not so much of its own violence as that of the world’s own, and, in response, had thrown its sons who at that time were called Senegalese infantrymen into the desert, just as in the evenings the sellers throw all their still-unsold plums into the embers.” In this novel of radiant lyricism, Patrice Nganang recounts the story of Cameroon’s forced entry into World War II, and in the process complicates our own understanding of that globe-spanning conflict. After the fall of France in 1940, Cameroon found itself caught between Vichy and the Free French at a time when growing nationalism advised allegiance to neither regime, and was ultimately dragged into fighting throughout North Africa on behalf of the Allies.

“What happens to a colony when its colonizer becomes colonized itself? That’s the questioned underlying [When the Plums Are Ripe] . . . [A] richly detailed novel . . . A brilliant, beguiling story.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Nganang is a political force whose experiences in Cameroon inform every page of this novel . . . For those who appreciate how fiction illuminates history, [When the Plums Are Ripe] will be an eye-opener.” Library Journal

“With a narrative structure reminiscent of African oral traditions, an unknown narrator heralds the young men who shed their blood for a Western country and the young women left behind [...] With lyrical, soaring prose, Nganang sings their song, challenging the Euro-written history of colonialism and replacing it with a much-needed African one.” —Publishers Weekly

Originally published by Philippe Rey Editions in 2013 with the title La saison des prunes.

More information here.


Patrice Nganang was born in Cameroon and is a novelist, a poet, and an essayist. His novel Temps de chien received the Prix Littéraire Marguerite Yourcenar and the Grand prix littéraire d'Afrique noire. He is also the author of La Joie de vivre and L'Invention d'un beau regard. He teaches comparative literature at Stony Brook University. See his website.

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