Amadou Hampâté Bâ: L’étrange destin de Wangrin ou Les roueries d’un interprète africain (The Fortunes of Wangrin)
Apparently based on a true story, this novel tells of Wangrin in a picaresque manner which reminded me somewhat of Smollett as much as anyone else. Wangrin is a Bambara from present-day Mali. He receives an education in French and, as a result, becomes an interpreter, interpreting between French and several African languages. During the period of French colonial administration, the interpreter is key, as the French colonial master is entirely dependent on him, so he assumes considerable power. Wangrin is, apparently, very good at his job so he amasses both power and wealth. His behaviour is certainly not above ethical reproach, at least by our standards – he engages in war profiteering, slaughtering elephants and all manner of trickery and deception.
Most of the story is of his rise and ultimate fall. We follow him as he works his way up the system, dealing with a variety of (weak and/or crooked) French colonial administrators, invariably getting the better of them, though not without problems and not without battling all along the way his inveterate enemy and rival, Romo. He uses prayer, divination, magic potions, complex kinship relationships as well as plain trickery and cunning to win through and win through he does, till the end when he is inevitably undone by a woman and booze. But on the way till his downfall, we can only admire his rise and enjoy his cunning and bravado.
First published by Union générale d’éditions, Paris in 1973
First published in English by New Horn Press, Nigeria in 1987
Translated by Aina Pavolini Taylor