“Houseboy” was originally published in French in 1956 under the title “Un vie de boy”, and later translated to English in 1966.
The book is written in form of a diary, kept by a Cameroonian houseboy Toundi.
The story begins in Spanish –speaking Guinea, where Toundi, sick and injured, is dying. When he dies, he leaves behind a diary, comprising two worn exercise books, which are later picked up by a stranger.
From the diary, we learn about Toundi’s journey through life. As a young boy, Toundi is fascinated by the white man and his things. He runs away from home, and ends up in the house of a priest, Father Gilbert, who he now treats as his father. He becomes a Christian, and is baptized Joseph. Though his father begs him to return home, Toundi refuses.
His dreams of advancement in studies end tragically when Father Gilbert dies in a motor cycle accident. With both his parents now dead, Toundi cannot return home. Instead, he is taken to work for the local commandant in town.
Very soon the commandants’ wife arrives in town. She is one of the prettiest white women around. When the commandant leaves on one of his regular tours around the country, his wife gets involved in an extra marital affair with M. Moreau. Everyone in the neighborhood knows about the affair except the commandant himself.
While the other workers are often mistreated and work under harsh conditions, Toundi is an exception. He is very close to the whites and his master as well. Whether it is his ability to speak French or something else, no one knows.
Wary of Toundi’s closeness to her husband, the commandant’s wife accuses him of spreading rumours about her affair with M. Moreau. One of Toundi’s fellow workers, the laundry man Baklu, often warns him about his closeness to the white man but he does not take heed.
Later when Sophie, a black woman, lover and the cook of M. Magnol, the agricultural engineer disappears with the workmen’s wages, totaling up to a hundred and fifty thousand francs, Toundi is arrested as a conspirator. The whites believe that Sophie is Toundis fiancée and torture him to confess his involvement. When Toundi suggests to them that Sophie could have gone to Spanish Guinea, they take this as proof that he was involved. He is beaten into unconsciousness and tragically dies from his injuries.
Set in the colonial era, Houseboy explores the imbalance of power that existed between the blacks and whites in that time, and the psychological torture colonialism had on the native Africans.