Angèle Rawiri holds the distinction of being the author of the first novel to be published by a Gabonese writer. In her third novel, The Fury and Cries of Women, she focuses on the maladies faced in marriage and motherhood by an educated African woman. Emilienne defied the expectations of her family and in-laws by marrying a man she met in college who does not belong to the same tribe as her family. In the first year of her marriage, she gave birth to a daughter. However, subsequent pregnancies over the next decade end in miscarriage and she realizes that her husband is having affairs with other women. Tragedy strikes when on the same day that Emilienne has experienced yet another miscarriage—which is vividly described in the opening of the novel—her only daughter, Rékia, goes missing and is found brutally murdered. Devastated, Emilienne blames herself for taking her only child for granted during her struggles to have a second one. Meanwhile, the loss of their primary reason for staying together exacerbates the distance and antagonism between Emilienne and her husband, Joseph. Emilienne becomes determined to overcome her infertility in order to compensate for the loss of her daughter and save her marriage.
Rawiri positions Emilienne’s domestic problems in the context of her extended family, as it is revealed that Joseph’s mother, Eyang—who resides with the couple—dislikes Emilienne and is plotting for her husband to divorce her and marry his mistress. Further complicating matters is the fact that the two sons of Joseph’s sister also live with Emilienne and Joseph after she left them in his care to marry her current husband. However, Emilienne has her own source of authority in her household due to her career and high income, which is another source of marital tension. As her husband informs her, ‘“No man, not even the most liberal-minded, accepts being financially inferior to his wife.” Thus, Emilienne’s strength as a successful, working woman is a hindrance that weakens her marital bond.
In an effort to conceive a child, Emilienne employs a number of strategies—utilizing both Western medicine and folk healers. She sees a respected gynecologist and undergoes laboratory testing and x-rays at his clinic. She also attends a fertility ceremony with her older sister. In an intriguing development, her gynecologist refers her to a hypnotist after he is unable to identify anything medically wrong with her. The hypnotherapy process involves several steps including the patient lying on a bed while the hypnotist—a white, middle-aged, French man— “proceed[s] to massage the young woman’s naked body, focusing on her lower abdomen.” The novel does not explicitly deal with the capacity for sexual exploitation that this method entails, although Eyang refers to Emilienne ‘“getting fondled by a white witch doctor […]”’ in a conversation with Joseph. Concurrently, Emilienne embarks upon a sexual relationship with her female secretary. As Cheryl Toman discusses in the afterword she penned for this edition of the novel, the relationship is unfortunately a problematic portrayal of lesbianism in that the secretary is later found to be involved in the elaborate scheming of Eyang to bring about Joseph and Emilienne’s divorce and also because Emilienne faults herself for having participated in it.
Parallel situations to Emilienne’s struggles to keep her marriage intact and bear a child abound in African literature written by women. In Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, Nnu Ego is divorced by her first husband due to her inability to get pregnant and then gets remarried to a new husband whom she dislikes but manages to have children with. Kawsar, in Nadifa Mohamed’s The Orchard of Lost Souls, suffers from infertility, only giving birth to one daughter who, like Rékia, dies in adolescence. The complexities of marriage—good and bad—are explored in Neshani Andreas’ The Purple Violet of Oshaantu. In each novel, the author asserts a unique perspective through the set of circumstances she places her female protagonist in. Nnu Ego discovers that due to the rapid modernization her country has undergone, having a large family no longer promises to provide the security it would have in a traditional society. Kawsar seems happily married and is eager to embrace her role as a mother, but ends up living alone after the deaths of her husband and daughter. Mee Ali, in The Purple Violet of Oshaantu, has an idyllic marriage to a hardworking and loving husband which stands in direct contrast to the abusive marriage that her close friend, Kauna, endures.
At the conclusion of The Fury and Cries of Women, Emilienne experiences upheaval in virtually every area of her life. The workers in the office where she is a manager go on strike. She ends her relationships with her mistress and then her husband, telling Eyang, ‘“Now you can have him all to yourself.”’ Thus, her realization that she will never be the most important woman in her husband’s life gives her the strength to terminate her marriage. Meanwhile, her sister has a medical emergency in her own pregnancy. At her bedside in the hospital, Emilienne utters a revelation, confirming that she has, in fact, found the strength to start anew.
 There is some discrepancy here as Cheryl Toman identifies Rawiri as “the first novelist of her country” in her afterword to this edition, yet also reveals that a male author, Robert Zoutoumbat, had already published a novel in 1971. In her web-page regarding Gabonese literature for the University of Western Australia (“Gabon”, 2006), Jean-Marie Volet lists Zoutombat as the first author of a Gabonese novel.
1. “The World Factbook: GABON.” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, 10 Jul. 2019. Web. 31 Jul. 2019.
2. Toman, Cheryl. (2014). Afterword. In Angèle Rawiri, The Fury and Cries of Women (pp. 195-220). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press.
3. Volet, Jean-Marie (Editor). “Gabon.” The University of Western Australia/French. 10 Nov. 2006. Web. 31 Jul. 2019.