33-year-old Cameroon-born newcomer Imbolo Mbue made headlines when she sold the rights to her debut novel, The Longings of Jende Jonga, for a cool $1 million (R11,5 million) at the Frankfurt Book Fair last year. Now the public finally has the chance to read her writing, as she has had her first short story published.
As Publishers Weekly reported back in October, David Ebershoff of Random House purchased the North American rights to The Longings of Jende Jonga from agent Susan Golomb.
The novel opens in New York City in 2007 and focuses on the West African immigrant of its title, who lands a job as a chauffeur for a high level executive at Lehman Brothers. Jende’s family becomes close to his employer’s—Jende’s wife is quickly hired by the exec’s wife—only to have both families thrown into disarray when the 2008 financial collapse hits.
Ebershoff said the novel is written with “equal amounts of intelligence, empathy, and talent,” and compared the author to writers ranging from Chimamanda Adichie to Jhumpa Lahiri.
Read her first published story, from the Threeprenny Review:
By Imbolo Mbue
It is a disease of the blood, the doctors told him.
He didn’t ask many questions—he knew about the disease more than some who came in to treat him. He knew that blood is the river of the body and with his being contaminated, his body might soon shrivel up and die like plants on a dried river bank. He knew this truth and yet he showed no great sorrow at the news, only a frail optimism. Bolow and I stayed by his side in those first days, watching as esteemed experts came in pairs and threes and sometimes enough to form a half moon around him. They asked him questions about his appetite, his sleep, his excrements. They read notes in his chart, listened to the beatings of his body, whispered to each other, and left the room with their heads down. The medicine, which the nurses put in through veins in his arm and back, made him drowsy but his sleep was light, ending when he awakened hot and sweaty from nightmares fueled by too many chemicals pumped into his body. After he had toweled off, he would tell us about the nightmares. In one, he was given a glass of blood by a hand without a body, and asked by a baby’s voice to drink it all in one sip. In another, he saw his head on a tray, laughing at him. Over the course of a few weeks, he became lean, then skeletal. His friends filed in and kept his spirits high and he kept theirs high too. When we left his presence we cried, for we saw on that bed a man whose mind and soul were well but whose body appeared to have lost half its contents.
He made a rule for all who came to visit him: no crying. What are you crying for, he would ask us with a short laugh. Yes, what are we crying for, we would ask ourselves. This, after all, was Emke. He was going to be a healer of others. Why would he not heal himself? He wanted to become a doctor because he was certain that to give a man good health was to give him a life worth continuing. Good health for all, he always said, is what Africa most needs.