Book Review: How To Cook Your Husband The African Way by Calixthe Beyala

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“I’m asking you to control his desires, to be the zapper of his zipper, the oil in his motor, the cable of his printer, the laces of his shoes.”

A STORY OF LOVE, FOOD AND ITS EXTREMITIES

From Porcupine with the nuts of wild mangoes to Boa in banana leaves, a devoted Aissatou is hell bent on cooking her way to the heart of the man—Bolobolo— she loves. Mr Bolobolo is a man from Mali who lives with his mother whom ‘is losing her marbles’ and her beloved pet chicken. She starts cooking and sending the meals to Bolobolo. At first, he hesitates, but later finds himself deep in the plate of whatever meal Aissatou has cooked. Bolobolo succumbs to the powerful force of good food and enters relationship with her. However, in this case, the age-long saying that the way to a man’s heart is his stomach loses credibility. Although it does a part of the job and wonderful things to a man’s palate and stomach, the heroine comes to the realization that food isn’t enough to keep a man.

This is an ultra-modern rom-com (a fusion of romance and comedy) story set in Paris. Beyala’s writing style in showing us the different dimensions of the human mind is noteworthy. She makes use of the first person point of view, thereby making the story very relatable and personal. You feel the heat Aissatou is feeling, preparing her meals and how eager she is in getting Mr Bolobolo. In addition, using satire the author dabs into other issues such as racism, identity and sexism amongst others.

This book will make you hungry. Beyala accompanies every chapter with mouth-watering recipes. The use of vivid graphic imagery by the author is excellent and this way the reader does not feel alienated.

“Food is the stuff of life, the same as life. Today it makes for more unity than justice. It’s maybe the only thing that will bring peace and reconciliation to humankind.”

So, can one really cook one’s husband the African way or any other way? Is it feasible? The answer to those questions is what Beyala has tried to trash out in her book.

The book is significant in many ways. First, it brings out the magical power of food. The author has successfully lectured us on how food can soften a man’s heart. From start to finish, we witness Aissatou winning all her battles with different kinds of meals.

“Because to be white you’ve got to be thin… A beautiful woman is flat as a pancake, thin as a rake or a slice of Melba toast. Melba toast snaps easily. Circle crackle. I measure my life by my waist”

Identity is another relevant theme in this book. At the beginning, we are confronted with this individual who takes care when it comes to food and tries to stay as thin as possible because she sees it as the norm and thinks that way she can stay the size society smiles at and probably find a man whilst she’s at it. At some point, she is confused as to which race she belongs. She says, “My roots are black. I am a black woman, but being away from my root has confused me… let me be honest… I am, as I said, not sure when I became white…”

However, as love takes over her entirety, the woman she is becoming blows us away. One who kicks societal approved eating habits to the kerb and tries retracing her steps back to her roots when her guru tells her she’s not worthy of love because she’s too thin. She was told, “What can a man eat of you? Bones, fish bones. Your bones are so scrawny a white guy’s dog wouldn’t gnaw them.”

 

“I shiver and get ready for my task, which is to make the man I love, love me again before time shreds my life into atoms of dust.”

Also, the writer gives us an insight into the realities and complexities entrenched in the institution of marriage. Aissatou’s love for Bolobolo is not temporal. It goes straight into marriage, in which she makes lots of sacrifices, wines and dines with patience and perseverance in order for things to work out. She says of the sacrifices she will make: “…putting up with lies, infidelities, vexations – there always comes a point when a woman must love the marriage more than the man.”

 

“Who decreed what men should do and women should do, the separation of roles?”

The above question revolves around the theme of gender roles/sexism. The answer seems to have eluded the writer. This question is a societal one, as roles differ from society to society. However, we feel that roles should not be gender based. As Chimamanda Adichie, author of Americana has said: Imagine how much happier we would be, how much freer to be our true individual selves if we didn’t have the weight of gender expectations. Aissatou continues, “Why do women have to look after the house, cook… make sure the kids have done their homework till death do them part from their duties, while men go out on the razzle?” While we ponder on the question, Aissatou has already concluded, “the question upsets me – there is no answer…”

 

“You mean to say your guy likes fish and you make him all kinds of fish & he still goes to restaurants to eat fish.”

 

In the end, one cannot really say one knows how to cook into a man’s heart, for the hearts of some men are unstable. After all the delicious meals, Bolobolo still goes out to cheat. He even has a child for another woman. The bottom line is if a man has decided to cheat, your delicious meals will not be able to stop him. Aissatou resigns to fate as she says, “There are problems in life that even porcupine cooked with wild mango nuts will not resolve.”

 

Ratings: 7/10

 

“I saw the child, the living symbol of how I had been fooled and cheated. Darkness enveloped me, a dark so deep I couldn’t even create images. I felt the floor dissolve under my feet.”



Olamide Kamar x Victor Olusanya

 



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