The Suns of Independence

Ahmadou Kourouma

translated from the French by Adrian Adams
Africana Publishing 1981 [1968]
A book review by Danny Yee © 2007
The disinherited heir of Dumbuya royalty, Fama ekes out a living using his status to beg at ceremonies, and through the efforts of his wife Salimata. When his cousin dies, he returns to his native village to reclaim what is left of his inheritance, which he succeeds in doing with the help of a praise-singer and a fetish-priest. When he returns to the capital with one of his new wives, however, he unwisely becomes involved in politics and is imprisoned. Inserted in this is the story of Salimata, who has fled circumcision and rape, and her desperate attempts to bear a child, resorting to charms and magic but not to infidelity.

Imbued with the details and rhythms of Malinke life and folklore and language, The Suns of Independence embeds us in a foreign world without self-consciousness or exoticism. It describes the unhappy confrontation of traditional culture with the fruits of independence, with socialism, the single party, and state violence. All of this is explained by the narrator, but without overpowering us, in a manner and style which work with the story.

"Once the keening women had been silenced, it was time for Fama to be shown to his quarters. The Koran says that once dead, summoned by God, a man has departed this earth forever; and Malinke custom assigns the head of a family his own patriarchal hut within the compound. No doubt about it then. There was the spacious hut left empty since Cousin Lasina's death, that had housed all the great Dumbuya ancestors. Fama need only open it up and settle in. But among the Bambara, the unbelievers, the Kaffirs, one must never sleep in a dead man's room without performing a small sacrifice to ward of spirits and shades. The fetish-priest and sorcerer Balla, the village unbeliever (we'll have more to say about him later on, the wily beast, the old hyena) reminded Fama of this infidel's custom. In spite of his deep faith in the Koran, in God and in Mohammed, Fama spent the whole night in a little hut, huddled between some old water-jars and a mangy mongrel. A most unpleasant night! It had to be that way. Nothing is good or evil in itself. It is speech that turns a thing into good or evil. And misfortune always, inevitably, follows the transgression of a custom, if the culprit was warned that such a custom existed, especially in the case of the customs of a village in the bush."

Fama and Salimata remain individuals and The Suns of Independence is not an ethnographic study or political tract but a compelling story and an effective short novel.

September 2007

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- books about Africa + African history
- more African literature
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%T The Suns of Independence
%A Kourouma, Ahmadou
%M French
%F Adams, Adrian
%I Africana Publishing
%D 1981 [1968]
%O paperback
%G ISBN 0841907471
%P 136pp