Kourouma, Ahmadou 1927-2003
KOUROUMA, Ahmadou 1927-2003
PERSONAL: Born 1927, in Boundiali, Ivory Coast; died December 11, 2003, in Lyons, France.
CAREER: Writer. Living in exile.
Les Soleils des indépendances (novel), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1970, translation by Adrian Adams published as The Suns of Independence, Africana Publishing (New York, NY), 1981.
Monnè, outrages et défis (novel), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1990, translation by Nidra Poller published as Monnew: A Novel, Mercury House (San Francisco, CA), 1993.
Le Diseur de vérité (four-act play), Acoria (Chatenay-Malabry, France), 1998.
En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (novel), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 1998, translation by Carrol F. Coates published as Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals, University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA), 2001.
Allah n'est pas obligé (novel), Editions du Seuil (Paris, France), 2000.
SIDELIGHTS: Using degraded African princes as the focal points of his first two novels, Ahmadou Kourouma has written angry satires about the disasters wrought in black Africa by both colonialism and postindependence black African governments. Critics have found exceptional both this unflinching anger and its modes of expression.
Kourouma's stylistic innovations were evident in his first novel, Les Soleils des independances, both in the French original and the subsequent English translation. "The first novel of Ahmadou Kourouma," commented Suzanne Gasster in the French Review, "marked the beginning of the adaptation of French deliberately opened to African language. From the African folk narration came a headlong rhythm, syntax reversals, and exclamations from different narrative sources." In Les Soleils des independances, much of the material for this language play is given by the fallen prince himself, Fama, who, discarded by the postcolonial dictatorship and slightly daft, makes a bare living by giving ritual orations. Fama is prey to the seemingly arbitrary forces in power, and his situation worsens until he is fatally wounded crossing a newly established territorial border.
The title of Kourouma's second novel, Monnè, outrages et défis refers to shame. It describes the fate of another prince, Djigui. In his own interest he cooperates with the French conquest of the Malinké peoples at the end of the nineteenth century, resulting in much slaughter and ruination of the kingdom. Kourouma uses a series of eyewitness narrators to relate the downfall. There are frequent comments on these recitations, anonymous voices responding with proverbial words from Malinké folklore or Islam; another verbal layer is provided by the misinterpretations given to Djigui—and, possibly to the reader—by French translators and local soothsayers.
But despite the continual verbal interest of the novel, it ends in much the same contemporary mood as Les Soleils des independances, revealing the same priorities of that novel noted by John F. Povey in World Literature Today: "The disaster of modern Africa must be exposed in words that burn with the bitterness of their despair. As the author concludes, colonized or independent, Africans will keep on suffering 'until such times as God unpeels the curse stuck fast in their black backsides.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Zell, Hans M., and others, A New Reader's Guide toAfrican Literature, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1983.
Africa Today, Volume 31, number 1, 1984, p.71.
Booklist, June 1, 1974, p. 1084.
French Review, October, 1991, Suzanne Gasster, review of Les Soleils des independances, p. 171.
Times Literary Supplement, October 18, 1985, p. 1180.
World Literature Today, winter, 1983, John F. Povey, review of Monnè, outrages et défis p. 159.*