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Ahmadou Kourouma: Les soleils des indépendances (The Suns of Independence)

Kourouma’s first novel was a fairly bitter novel about post-independence Ivory Coast and how, at least for the Malink&#233, the tribe to which Kourouma belonged, independence was, in many ways, worse than colonialism. The story concerns Fama. Fama is the descendant of the princes of Doumbouya of the Horodougou and therefore, as far as he is concerned and as far as many of the people of the area he came from are concerned, royalty. However, after independence, he is reduced to fending for himself, which means going around funerals and offering his services. His wife, Salimata, is infertile. She makes a small living selling things at the local market. When she was young, she was very beautiful. At the ritual female circumcision ceremony, she had been taken aside and raped by the fetishist, though she was led to believe that it was an ogre who was responsible. The result was that she left in pain and injured, which may have caused her infertility. In his glory days, Fama would have had a hundred wives but now he is reduced to just the one. At the start of the novel, his cousin, the current leader of Horodougou, who had managed to trick Fama out of his rightful heritage, has died. Fama now has to return home and claim his inheritance.

Of course, the world has changed. Though he is respected and revered by many of his people, the officials of the new government barely tolerate him. Moreover, it is not like the old days. The people are struggling to make a living and Fama, while trying to help, cannot, as he no longer has any power or authority. He manages to acquire another, younger (and, he hopes, more fertile) wife and returns to Salimata. While she goes through the motions of accepting this woman, she is very bitter and there are frequent physical fights. However, before he can do anything to resolve the matter, he is arrested. Apparently he had had a dream about a fellow Malinké who had become a minister but had tried to plot against the government. Had Fama revealed this dream to the authorities they might have prevented the plot, so Fama, along with many others, is sentenced at a kangaroo court to twenty years in prison. He accepts his punishment till, one day, the President comes to the prison camp and releases all the prisoners who have to participate in a parade to the glory of the President and his magnanimous behaviour. Fama leaves the parade and goes back to his country but only tragedy awaits him.

While Kourouma clearly has some sympathy for Fama, there is no doubt that he feels Fama is out of touch with modern realities. But his main bile is reserved for the post-independence government, with its single party, its almost stereotype African president (whom we will meet in his later work, En attendant le vote des bêtes sauvages (Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals; Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote)), its restrictions and, of course, its corruption. The book was, naturally, not well received in the Ivory Coast but for those of us not implicated in that government, it is a fine work.

Publishing history

First published by Éditions du Seuil in 1970
First English translation in 1981 by Africana Publishing
Translated by Adrian Adams