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Buchcover von Issa von Mirrianne Mahn

Issa

Issa, who lives in Frankfurt am Main, is pregnant and desperate. The situation with her child’s father is complicated as is with her mother. No longer knowing what to do, and at the urging of her mother, she flies to see her grandmother and great-grandmother in Cameroon. There she is to undergo a series of rituals that her relatives believe are essential for her child’s well-being.

Issa was raised in Germany and due to this, she is initially skeptical of the rituals, but learns to accept them. In her debut novel, Mirrianne Mahn uses this narrative frame to tell the story of Issa’s search for herself and the women who came before her in simple, no-frills language.

Mahn begins in 1903 with Enanga, Issa’s great-grandmother, who worked for a German family during the colonial occupation of Cameroon and was subsequently raped by her white employer. Her father sees the resulting pregnancy as a huge disgrace and Enanga is forced to leave her family. She perseveres, but there is still more pain to come. Not just for her, but for her daughter Marijoh, her daughter Namondo and her daughter Ayudele, Issa’s mother. All the women in the family had to learn how to fend for themselves. Regardless of the different Cameroonian, Nigerian or German villages and towns they lived in, they experienced patriarchal and colonial structures first-hand. Nonetheless, they all developed their own survival strategies to protect themselves and their loved ones. 

While Issa struggles with her relationship and her progressing pregnancy, which frightens her a bit, even still she feels out of place with her grandmothers in Cameroon. Issa’s Pidgin is not very good and her relatives make fun of her German behavior. But on the other hand, Issa develops more understanding and compassion for herself within her family. The trip does her good; speaking with her ancestors does her good; taking part in the rituals does her good. Mahn writes in a way that bluntly points out the harsh living conditions and the flaws of her characters. But the humor and warmth that Issa and the other women radiate are nourishing and empowering. This aspect gives Mahn’s novel a therapeutic effect.

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