cover image The Impatient

The Impatient

Djaili Amadou Amal, trans. from the French by Emma Ramadan. HarperVia, $26.99 (176p) ISBN 978-0-06-314162-9

Cameroonian writer Amal’s English-language debut follows the fates of three women who are forced into polygamy as teenage girls. Ramla, at 17, longs to break out of her insular compound in northern Cameroon to attend university and become a pharmacist. Films from the West and Bollywood help embolden her, and she plans to marry her brother’s best friend, who would allow her to continue her studies, but she’s betrothed against her will to Alhadji Issa, an older politician who supports her male family members’ interests. Ramla’s older sister Hindou is made to marry an alcoholic man who beats and rapes her, and Amal implies he may take other wives as well. After Ramla’s marriage to Alhadji, she faces further hardships from Alhadji’s first wife of 20 years, Safira, who sabotages Ramla out of fear. Once Safira realizes she’s gone too far, she and Ramla talk candidly for the first time about their situation. Though the two women’s interaction offers glimmers of hope, for the most part Amal unleashes a relentless litany of the horrors that the women face in marriage, as the women’s relatives blame them for their husbands’ poor tempers and unfaithfulness. The story feels incomplete, as it concentrates almost exclusively on the women’s troubles without further developing the characters. This provides a stark and unflinching view of an oppressive culture, though as fiction it falls short. (Oct.)