port of harlem magazine
port of harlem gambian education partnership
Review: Call Me Abou
Sep 08 – Sep 21, 2022
sanusi camara

The most refreshing part of reading stories by non-American writers is that they often break western formulas. This is one reason why the now deceased Nigerian-British writer Buchi Emecheta remains my favorite storyteller. She was the author of more than 20 books, I have read nine of them. Competing for that title now is Gambian Sanusi Camara with the release of his second novel, “Call Me Abou.”

Abou lost his father before he was born. His mother remarried and his life became bright until his stepfather passed away. Unlike in too many western stories, his stepfather was fair to him and his mother was just to her stepson. For Camara, having a stepmom or mother-in-law be the evil person is not the norm as often is in stories from Cinderella to The Jeffersons. "The author doesn't think it's normal," he responded to Port of Harlem in third person.

In one particular case, after Abou had been noncompliant, his birth mom did not allow him to eat with the polygamous family while the stepson ate. “Normally, the child under punishment is exempted from the meal. The child can be punished by a stepmom, uncle, bother, a friend of the parent, or even an outsider who has connection,” he says.

Abou’s mother was soon accused of witchcraft and he learned what people are like when they are afraid. The introduction of this storyline recalls the infamous Salem Witch trials, but Camara’s story is much more earthy and colorful.

Fortunately for the duo, a well-respected old man endowed with philosophical wisdom delivered Abdou’s mother and he through several spiritual confrontations and allegations from the queen mother and the ancestor-worshipper. Meeting the three village super powers and witnessing their confrontation was, for me, the highlight of the book, as the story unfolded not following the well-worn Salem Witch hunt template.

After the trial, his mother and he eventually moved to the capital city, Banjul, where he, now as a young adult, is tempted by city life. Unexpectedly, Camara takes a swipe at the judicial system that a westerner may miss, but it’s that type of freshness that makes one think and this concise tale a great adventure.

Excerpt of Call Me Abou

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