Books

These Letters End in Tears by Musih Tedji Xaviere review – love in the face of hate

Told mostly through unsent letters, this debut novel shows that love, despite all odds, can persevere

These Letters End in Tears by Musih Tedji Xaviere is a tremendous debut novel, engaging with the realities of LGBTQ+ life in Cameroon, where, in the shadow of the violent legacy of colonialism, existing as a queer person is punishable by law. Through impassioned letters, Bessem, a lesbian university professor, addresses her first love, Fatima, who’s been missing for 13 years. After a chance encounter with an old friend, she decides she must uncover the truth of Fatima’s whereabouts. 

As students, both Fatima and Bessem dive headlong into love with reckless abandon. Xaviere’s prose sings with the humour of day-to-day life beside a partner. Everyone deserves an ordinary kind of love, but their relationship must be maintained in secrecy. As a masculine-presenting person, Fatima is subject to greater public scrutiny than Bessem, who favours dresses. Their love is threatened constantly by police raids, suspicious classmates, disapproving families and hypocritical politicians.  

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Looking back, the adult Bessem feels such longing for Fatima. She still dwells in the history of their love, remembering the home they created in each other’s arms. Without knowing the facts, she cannot move on. Xaviere powerfully speaks to the tensions felt between Francophone and Anglophone speakers, as well as Christian and Muslim communities in Cameroonian society.

The book celebrates the believers who embrace queerness and gender fluidity, even when religious authorities deny this. Ultimately, Xaviere honours the LGBTQ+ community who still endure, in the face of virulent homophobia. I hope to read many more novels from this author, who faced her own risks in publishing this book. It is a blessing to be able to read her work.

These Letters End in Tears by Musih Tedji Xaviere is out now (Jacaranda Press, £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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