“La Bastarda” Is The First Novel By An Equatorial Guinean Woman To Be Translated Into English

by Erika W. Smith

It’s 2018, and for the first time, a novel by an Equatorial Guinean woman is being translated into English. That woman is Trifonia Melibea Obono, a journalist and political scientist who researches women and gender in Africa; the novel isLa Bastarda (Feminist Press), a queer coming-of-age story that numbers less than 100 pages.

Our main character is a teenage girl named Okomo, who lives with her grandfather, his two wives, and their children. Okomo’s mother died in childbirth, before Okomo’s father could pay a dowry, so Okomo is a bastarda — a bastard. Okomo’s birth means that she’s an outcast among her Fang community, and within her own family. And although Okomo wants desperately to meet her biological father, Okomo’s grandmother reminds her that because she is a bastard, every man in the village is her father.

At first, the only person Okomo feels close to is her uncle Marcelo, another outcast; Okomo’s family and community calls Marcelo a “man-woman” — meaning he’s gay. After Marcelo is forced out of the village, Okomo forms a connection with a group of three other outcasts, all girls around her own age. The girls tell her their secret: they’re gay, too. Okomo has always had a crush on one of the girls, Linda, and she joins the group, forming a close friendship and stealing away to the forest to have group sex. But Okomo falls in love with the group’s leader, Dina. The two break the group’s promise to only have sex as a foursome, bringing the wrath of the other two girls — and then all of their community — upon them. “We women, women who love other women, we’re the sheep of society,” Obono writes as Okomo.

La Bastarda will be most readers’ first encounter with Equatorial Guinean literature, but the story of Okomo’s coming-of-age is one that will resonate with people from any culture. Its length makes it a quick read, but the story will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

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