John's Reviews > The Radiance of the King

The Radiance of the King by Camara Laye
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 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, ping pongs around the imaginary African country - Aziana - his awareness (and arrogance) is slowly changed. When we meet Clarence, he is pushing his way through a crowd assembled to witness the grandeur of the passing King. He throws his elbows as a metaphorical white invader, demanding audience on the single qualification of his skin color. His failure is due less a Kafka-esque labyrinth of impossible forces and more to a bemused reaction of those around him.

Clarence is whisked away by a con man beggar and two children. The beggar strings Clarence along with wit and hollow promises of access. The beggar keeps assuring Clarence that the Beggar will speak to the King about the white man. While the two boys are not the starving waifs tagging along to feed off the scraps of the White Man, but rather, scamps intent on sly and brilliant mischief. The boys, in on the scam, take turns encouraging and truth-telling to Clarence, who is immune to their pleas.

Clarence falls into the hands of the naba and his cast of characters. Samba Baloum is Clarence's handler, while Akissi serves as his "woman." It is in this last half of the novel that we encounter Aziana's political society. Clarence is completely unaware, due to his innate racism, that he is being used nightly to sire a harem's worth of children. Clarence believes that he is laying with Akissi each night, but is disturbed to see her outside the window each night.

Beyond his undiscerning racism, Clarence is at a complete loss when experiencing the African landscape. He is convinced he is traveling in circles through the forests and terrified by the "silver breasts of the river ladies" who are actually sea cows. His hallucinations are simple minded and seen as absurd amusements by the Africans. This particular narrative tactic is incredibly brilliant on Laye's part - it upends the wide eyed native in the western world completely.

The Epiphany of the novel is a bit of a let down, but sudden and brutal self-awareness of the Western Man usually is...
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Reading Progress

September 24, 2018 – Shelved
September 24, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
September 24, 2018 – Shelved as: africa-2018
September 24, 2018 – Shelved as: fiction
October 30, 2018 – Started Reading
November 8, 2018 – Finished Reading

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