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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Suns of Independence

Ahmadou Kourouma

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Title: The Suns of Independence
Author: Ahmadou Kourouma
Genre: Novel
Written: 1968 (Eng. 1981)
Length: 136 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Suns of Independence - US
The Suns of Independence - UK
The Suns of Independence - Canada
Les Soleils des indépendances - Canada
Les Soleils des indépendances - France
Der letzte Fürst - Deutschland
  • French title: Les Soleils des indépendances
  • Translated by Adrian Adams
  • Awarded the Prix de la Francité and the Prix de l'Académie royale de Belgique

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Our Assessment:

B+ : effective story of difficult transitions from traditional to modern Africa

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Suns of Independence is a novel of early postcolonial Africa. The central character is Fama, the last chief of the once-powerful Dumbuya tribe that ruled over Horodugu -- an area that has now been divided between two newly independent African states, the Ebony Coast and the Socialist Republic of Nikinai.
       A Malinke (like author Kourouma), Fama inherits the position of leader of this once great territory. But:

In a world turned upside-down, Fama had inherited an honour without the means to uphold it, like a headless snake.
       He is a fairly poor city dweller now, far removed from his home-town, unable to find his place in this complex new world. People still show respect for who he is, and yet he is obviously part of a world that has largely been lost.
       Fama is married, but he and his wife, Salimata, have not been able to have a child -- meaning his lineage will die out with him. The beautiful but increasingly desperate Salimata also has a tragic history, as her initiation into womanhood (a brutal ritual) was botched, and she then taken advantage of. She is now obsessed with becoming pregnant. She always tries to do good, being generous and devout, but goodness here is rarely rewarded. She certainly suffers for it.
       Fama, the "sole remaining legitimate descendant" of the Dumbuyas, returns to his native lands to assume his position. The countryside is different than the city, but life has changed here as well. Arriving in Binja, where Salimata is from, he:
was prepared to unsheath his tongue and lash out with a cut-and-thrust denunciation of the bastard politicians and suns of Independence. But they cut him short. The republic's single party forbade villagers to listen to anything people arriving from the capital city might say about politics.
       Fama does not fit well in this changed world: his personality clashes with the post-independence expectations. People still make allowances for him (and what he stands for), but it is clear that he is a relic from a bygone time.
       Fama arrives in his native Togobala, a place of "seething passivity", the people worn out by the turmoil of the post-independence adjustments. Traditions are upheld -- the burial ceremony of his cousin, the previous chief, is celebrated as elaborately as possible, nearly as in the old days. But the world is not the same:
Truly the suns of Independence are unsuited to great things; they have not only unmanned, but also unmagicked Africa.
       Fama does the best he knows how, but he can not adapt to the changed world. He is jailed as a political prisoner, and later he is freed: it all remains incomprehensible to him. He tries to focus only on his duty, on what he knows must be done, but he largely fails here too.

       Kourouma presents his story well. Malinke stories and history, and the contrasting modern world are well presented. Small human triumphs are sprinkled throughout, and though it is vibrant it is also a very bleak world he describes.
       Kourouma's presentation is not taut, as threads are picked up and lost, but as both Fama and Salimata are lost souls this mild disorientation works well. The individual scenes are all quite strong, as Kourouma tells a variety of tales and describes the conditions for the people.
       A fine novel about the clash of cultures in modern Africa, done without romanticizing past or present, and using some striking and very human characters.

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Reviews: Ahmadou Kourouma: Other books by Ahmadou Kourouma under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Ahmadou Kourouma was born in the Ivory Coast in 1927 and died in 2003.

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