Sunday, September 5, 2010

Imaginative answer to colonialism

Not too well known, this masterpiece from the 1950s celebrates the silences in language and other ways of knowing things.

The Radiance of the King
(Le Regard du Roi),
Camara Laye,
translated by James Kirkup
Camara Laye's novel, The Radiance of the King, is an astounding answer to the experience of colonialism. Unlike Chinua Achebe, better known in the English speaking world, or even the more experimental Ata Ama Aidoo, Laye's answer is not given in discursive terms, it is flung out through a great leap of the imagination. And because profound imagination will always go beyond answers, The Radiance of the King is far more than a novel about the colonial experience. It deserves to be known as one of the major fictional works of the 20th century, and one which calls up no easy comparisons.

Laye was born in 1928, in Guinea, to the Malinke tribe, and later went to study in France where he lived through both great solitude and poverty. His political commitment was deep. Some years after he returned, he was imprisoned by Sekou Toure, and later spent most of his life in Senegal under the protection of Leopold Senghor, till his death in 1980.

Laye's protagonist is the Frenchman Clarence who has come to the African continent on a mission whose reason is never divulged. He loses all his money in gambling with other white men, and is left with no option but to seek employment with the king.

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