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Ahmadou Kourouma
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: Ahmadou KOUROUMA
Nationality: Côte d'Ivoire
Born: 1927
Died: 11 December 2003
Awards: Prix Renaudot (2000)

  • Is, at times, incorrectly reported to have been born in 1940
  • Served in French military (including in Indochina, 1951-54)
  • Graduated from the Institut des Actuaires, Lyon (1959)
  • Worked as banker and accountant, in Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria, Cameroon, and Togo
  • His works have won many awards in addition to the Prix Renaudot

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • The Suns of Independence - novel, 1968 (Les soleils des indépendances, trans. Adrian Adams, 1981)
  • Le diseur de vérité - drama, 1972 (first published 1998)
  • Monnew - novel, 1990 (Monnè, trans. Nidra Poller, 1993)
  • Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals - novel, 1998 (En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages, trans. Carrol F. Coates, 2001; Frank Wynne, 2003)
  • Yacouba, chasseur africain - children's novel, 1998
  • Allah is not obliged - novel, 2000 (Allah n'est pas obligé, trans. Frank Wynne, 2005)
  • Quand on refuse on dit non - novel, 2004

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.

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What others have to
say about
Ahmadou Kourouma:

  • "His is perhaps a voice that cannot be translated" - Kenneth Harrow, World Literature Today (Winter, 1994)

  • "Kourouma's novels are satires on modern African states, ruled by single parties and vain, lecherous, violent leaders, and on the relationship of African society to despotic and ignorant colonial governments and then to the self-serving schemes of contemporary Europe." - Adele King, World Literature Today (Spring, 1999)

  • "Ahmadou Kourouma has had a sparse but splendid literary career." - James Copnall, Times Literary Supplement (14/3/2003)

  • "Now in his seventies, Kourouma has justly been likened to Voltaire by Le Nouvel Observateur. Gabriel Garcia Marquez also comes to mind, likewise John Updike’s sparkling ventriloquism and sardonic erudition in The Coup." - David Caute, The Spectator (10/5/2003)

  • "L'Afrique de Kourouma n'est pas seulement celle des palais et des puissants. C'est celle des cases, de la poussière rougeâtre et du sang noir des poulets qu'on sacrifie, l'Afrique des griots et des maîtres chasseurs. L'Afrique des Africains chassés de chez eux." - Judith Rueff, Libération (12/12/2003)

  • "Mit der Verwendung der Malinké-Sprache als Subtext für einen französisch geschriebenen Roman löste Kourouma eines der zentralen Probleme der modernen Literaturen Afrikas auf eine originelle Weise: in welcher Sprache schreiben ? (...) Für europäische Leserinnen und Leser geben Ahmadou Kouroumas vier Romane einen reichhaltigen und unterhaltsamen Einblick in mehr als hundert Jahre afrikanischer Geschichte." - Heinz Hug, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (13/12/2003)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • A distinctive African voice and perspective
  • Creative use of language (using both French and African languages)
  • Neat use of traditional narratives and narrative techniques
  • Sharp satire
  • Quick, wild, engaging stories

  • His language is difficult enough in the "French" original, and even harder to convey in translation
  • Has only written a few books
  • Each book rendered into English by a different translator, published by a different publisher -- and often hard to find

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the complete review's Opinion

     Ahmadou Kourouma has only published a few novels, but they are among the most significant by any modern African author. In France, each has been greeted with great acclaim, sold exceptionally well, and been showered with prizes. In the English-speaking world, Kourouma has yet to make much of an impression: despite some positive reviews, he remains largely unknown outside college classes in African fiction. (A year after its American publication, the translation of his possibly most significant work -- Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals -- still appears not even to have been reviewed in any significant publication (beyond the relatively insignificant complete review, of course).)
     Kourouma's career is an odd one. He wrote his first novel, The Suns of Independence, in the early 1960s. It was rejected by several French publishers (including Éditions du Seuil), and Kourouma eventually submitted it in a competition organized by the journal Études Françaises at the University of Montreal in 1967. The manuscript won, and was then published by Les Presses de l'Université de Montréal in 1968. Éditions du Seuil then bought the rights and published it in France in 1970, and the novel went on to garner much praise, many prizes, and significant sales. An English translation, however, only appeared in 1981.
     Kourouma's second novel, Monnew, was only published in 1990, and Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals only in 1998. He continues to enjoy great critical and popular success. His most recent novel, the still untranslated Allah n'est pas obligé (2000), in particular attracted much attention, dealing with a subject matter (child soldiers under the heinous West African regimes in Liberia and Sierre Leone) that has achieved some notoriety in the West.
     Kourouma's books offer a broad picture of western Africa in the twentieth century. Actual regimes, many of the (mis)rulers of the region, and changing daily life in these areas over the course of the century are all covered in his works. It is a stunning and significant portrait of a region that is not well-known in Europe and America.
     Kourouma uses satire -- forcefully and well. He is sharp, cutting, and to the point in his examples and his presentation. Some of the writing might appear rough and ramshackle: he doesn't linger, and he doesn't worry about many of the finer points. He conveys his material in broad strokes -- though there are some fine small touches, too.
     The novels are fast-paced and episodic, and on the wild side: magic goes with realism, traditional European narrative techniques are mixed and matched with African traditions. Oral literature influences much of the writing and its presentation, but Kourouma effectively presents it in his written form.
     Kourouma's use of language is especially noteworthy -- and unfortunately something that is not easily conveyed in translation. The writing is a product of Francophone West Africa: those cultures, the native tongues, and the colonial language imposed on them, all lead to the idiom that he uses throughout his works. It is challenging to the non-native (i.e. non West African) speaker, but it is an enrichment, not impoverishment of language, and it is used very effectively by Kourouma.
     A talented writer, dealing with important subjects, presented in innovative and exciting ways.

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Ahmadou Kourouma: Ahmadou Kourouma's books at the complete review: See also:

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