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The Radiance of the King

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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  457 ratings  ·  61 reviews
At the beginning of this masterpiece of African literature, Clarence, a white man, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Flush with self-importance, he demands to see the king, but the king has just left for the south of his realm. Traveling through an increasingly phantasmagoric landscape in the company of a beggar and two roguish boys, Clarence is gradually stripp ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published May 31st 2001 by NYRB Classics (first published 1954)
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3.82  · 
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 ·  457 ratings  ·  61 reviews


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William2
The POV here is third-person limited, and beautifully done. We are never far from the musings of Clarence. We enter into the thoughts of no one else.

The phantasmagoria here reminds me of Ben Okri’s fabulous Booker Prize Winning The Famished Road, and the idea of a white man adrift among Africans of Saul Bellow’s funny and moving Henderson the Rain King. Though here the author’s white man—Clarence—is disenfranchised and trying to finagle his way out of his poverty, Bellow’s Henderson is rich but
...more
Justin Evans
Dec 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Kafka plus Conrad turned upside down in Africa? Yes. Camara re-writes the Heart of Darkness as if it were a Kafkan parable, and, because that wasn't enough, writes from the close third POV of a white man, whose perceptions are entirely untrustworthy. But this is no grand existential statement about subjectivism and so on. The point is quite clear, and quite terrifying for the white reader: Clarence is simply incapable of experiencing or understanding the (unnamed) West African country he finds h ...more
Zanna
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: translated
The lord will pass through the corridor and looking at the prisoner will say: "This one must not be locked up any more: he is coming to me."

- Kafka


What an epigraph. I was haunted by it for days. And it sets the tone so perfectly for what follows! This is very like Kafka, absurd satire-parable, although its energy seemed to me very much heartier and less desperate than Kafka's. I was laughing throughout, without crying at the same time...

Toni Morrison has written an introduction to this edition.
...more
Aubrey
3.5/5
You see what I mean by ‘luck,’ and what others mean when they talk of ‘merit.’
I'm giving this a mere three on the star scale as an urgent reminder to someday come back to it in a far more equipped fashion. Said equipage so far consists of the concrete form of Toni Morrison's introduction to an edition of this work other than my own, along with some vague handwavey aspirations at a far greater amount of so-generalized "African" literature under my belt. What I didn't get I lost, what I did
...more
Daniel Polansky
A European wastrel finds himself lost and broke in an unnamed, dreamlike west African country in this brilliantly odd take on colonialism. Sort of an anti-heart of darkness, a critique not only of African literature but of the west’s entire view of Africa, but subtle and without cruelty or even much bitterness. I genuinely can’t recall ever reading anything like it; strong rec.
HomeInMyShoes
Jun 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Hard not to recommend this. Part Waiting for Godot, part Candide, and part Heart of Darkness. Mix well. A very flowing book with lots to say about expectation, hope, and self.
Marieke
I don't know how to rate this book yet because i'm not sure i really understood it. some scenes were rather befuddling and i had trouble concentrating. but generally speaking, the language was amazing, especially the dialogue. I especially enjoyed "the boys," Nagoa and Noaga. In some ways i wished the story had been more about them than Clarence. At first i enjoyed Clarence, but the farther along i got, the more his arrogance began to grate--I was hoping to have a better understanding of what ex ...more
Buruji Mark
Jun 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing

One of the most remarkable and brilliant novels from Africa that I ever read. And this one was published very early many decades ago which illustrates what a great writer Camara Laye was…and from Guinea too. This book is a must for anybody interested in African writing. This is world class writing, incorporating the best from Africa, from Europe and cascading into intellectual apogee. This wonderful story of a white man in Africa, bewildered, bemused, brought down, even exploited, until attainin
...more
Jim
Jul 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa, fiction, humor
Camara Laye's The Radiance of the King is a comic look at the white "master race" as seen through the eyes of West Africans. Clarence (no last name), leaving a broad swath of ruin behind him in the form of debts, winds up in an unnamed African country where he decides he will ask for a position with the king. First, however, he winds up with a crafty old beggar and two African boys who talk him into traveling to the south of the country.

There, he has the interesting job of impregnating the loca
...more
Robert Wechsler
The first few pages are fantastic. But the prose quickly becomes utilitarian at best, and the novel failed to work for me as a Kafkaesque fable. I read 50 pages.
Chris
Dec 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2009
I can't think of anything to say about The Radiance of the King that wasn't covered by Toni Morrison in her outstanding introduction to this edition of the book, found here: http://www.nybooks.com/shop/product-file/78/ther78/introduction.pdf.

Some highlights from her intro:

"Literary Africa — outside, notably, of the work of some white South African writers — was an inexhaustible playground for tourists and foreigners... Accommodatingly mute, conveniently blank, Africa could be made to serve a wid
...more
Sharon
Dec 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Pretty preposterous giving this book three starts just because I didn't get it. I thought it would never end, this dream goes on and on. The main character Clarence falls asleep standing up and never seems to know what's going on. I like the reviews that call it "Kafka-esque." (I don't get him either.) I wish I had read The Radiance of the King in a class because every line seems to mean something heavy. But what? I read and re-read Toni Morrison's introduction. Personally, I think she's on the ...more
Missy J
2.5 rounded down.

I read this for a book club's journey to Guinea. There's a lot of praise surrounding this book, unfortunately this is the type of book that is too complex for me to understand. The afterword made me appreciate it more - especially the aspects how Western values are difficult to apply in foreign environments. However, while I was reading this book, I was often too confused about what was going on. It felt too surrealist and many symbols were unknown to me. Even though the ending
...more
Marcia Letaw
Sep 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The Radiance of the King is a book so radiant that it will surely overwhelm all books that come after it. I've learned that one cannot possess a book any more than one can possess a moment, for the rereading would always be a different book a different experience. 6 stars.
Tinea
Kind of a slapstick spoof on the colonial adventure narrative, with a special play on orientalist notions of indigenous sexuality.

I have to credit Toni Morrison's introduction [pdf] to really appreciate it:

The cliched journey into African darkness either to bring light or to find it is reimagined here. In fresh metaphorical and symbolic language, storybook Africa, as a site of therapeutic exploits or of sentimental initiations leading toward life's diploma, is reinvented. Employing the idiom of
...more
katie
Aug 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an incredible book. One of the most acclaimed books by an African writer of the post-war period. The language has a flow that is almost like poetry, extremely evocative writing inspires all of your senses. And the Introduction by the indomitable Toni Morrison was just amazing. Reading her introduction and then the book made me feel like I was back in a race studies class in college, and made me miss that so much! Especially when you think about how someone like Toni Morrison, a young black ...more
Christina
Nov 06, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
The only thing I can truly say about this book was that it was extremely strange. I know it was supposed to have displayed aspects of postmodernism and post-colonialism, but I found it unrealistic. It wasn't moving at all, nor was it (in my opinion) eye-opening whatsoever. I completely understand what Laye was trying to accomplish, but the writing left me underwhelmed. If the plot, characters, and writing had been more developed, this could have been an outstanding novel. However, there is a rea ...more
Melody Kia
Dec 22, 2008 rated it did not like it
This book almost killed me...
John
Nov 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: africa-2018, fiction
Laye brilliantly and slyly turns colonial narratives on their head, then spins them around in a African-centric blender. To cite the varied literary references would be to walk through an obvious list of English Modernism, BUT, I think such a critique renders a great injustice to the originality of Laye's fiction.

Laye never once blinks at the assumed arrogance of the white man in Africa. Nor does he ever question the sophistication of the African society. As Clarence, the exiled white failure, p
...more
Collier Brown
Dec 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: home-inventory
For some reason, I had it in my head that The Radiance of the King dealt with African heritage and mythology. Not so. Or at least not totally that. Salvation is the real theme—Pilgrim's Progress, rewritten. Clarence is like Bunyan's protagonist: a graceless, arrogant white man in need of some lessons in humility. But instead of the Slough of Despond, the gauntlet is Africa. Shipwrecked, broke, and completely nonplussed by the indifference with which he is treated, Clarence seeks an audience with ...more
Justin Echols
Nov 22, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: african-lit
This book can piss right off.
Katherine
Mar 13, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: WAC Book Club
This was quite a trip for me. I literally felt I was drunk most of the time reading this story - at the same time you cannot help but see the symbolic meanings behind the whole story. A white man is in some African country and is in debt by his wild gambling nights and has to find a way to make ends meet, as he's thrown out of the inn he's staying at. He sees the procession of the king, who is did ghostly figure that needs to be carried around because his arms are fully covered with gold bracele ...more
Jonele
May 27, 2017 rated it it was ok
To me the dialogue and action was rather nonsensical - described as phantasmagorical by others. The main character comes across as rather obtuse and his interactions with the other characters were difficult to understand, unless perhaps you are into deconstructing the historical social interactions of white Europeans and Africans from the "dark continent". Honestly, I enjoyed the introduction by Toni Morrison better than the book.
Val
Aug 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-tour, temp
This is an unusual book, by an author from Guinea. It intrigued me as an interesting slant on the interaction between the colonised and the coloniser. I enjoyed some aspects of it, but others seemed to not work as well.
David Smith
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
An African classic - probably the best piece of writing to date to come out of Guinea Conakry. It's a refreshing table-turning of race relations apart from being a very original story.
Helen Schmidt
May 28, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was a slog, to say the least. To be fair, it's been a while since I read it and I might understand and like it better now. I get what the author was going for as far as social, racial, etc. commentary, but the writing and main character were not enough for me to appreciate it.
Clarence is arrogant, aloof, and annoying to read about. I hated him so much it made it difficult to get through the book. The writing style of the author was another problem for me: long sentences that seemed to
...more
Rock
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it
Clever, puzzling, often troubling satire of colonial literature. Most people who have read Conrad will get it; I feel really bad for the reviewers on goodreads who say that this is the first African novel they've read (try Things Fall Apart first please). This book plays rough with European stereotypes of Africa, so if before reading it you check out the assertions that it was not written by Camara, you're going to feel queasy for much of the second half especially.
Sean
Aug 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stylistically inspired by Kafka, at least in some ways, a story from the African perspective of a white man's hubris as he attempts to be hired by an African king, to do what, he doesn't know. Something, surely. He's white, after all. Slightly surreal and funny too.
Rick
Oct 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Justly revered.
Mihai
Feb 19, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
After two weeks of struggling with The Radiance of the King, I finally gave up on it, shortly after passing the halfway mark. As much as I hate leaving a book unfinished, it became clear to me that I was just wasting my time trying to decipher this perfectly dumbfounding "story" - if it can be called that. It is more like a sequence of head-scratching events that somehow made sense only in the mind of the author, then assembled under the guise of a novel. I could have gone ahead and wrestled wit ...more
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During his time at college he wrote The African Child (L'Enfant noir), a novel based loosely on his own childhood. He would later become a writer of many essays and was a foe of the government of Guinea. His novel The Radiance of the King (Le Regard du roi) is considered to be one of his most important works.

He was born Malinke (a Mandé speaking ethnicity) into a caste that traditionally worked as
...more