The King of Kahel

Tierno Monénembo, trans. from the French by Nicholas Elliott, AmazonCrossing (, $15.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-9825550-7-1
To make much out of little is always impressive. But Monénembo, who won France's Prix Renaudot for this book, has done the opposite: what should have been fascinating is consistently dull. The story is loosely inspired by the life of Olivier de Sanderval, who, intent on becoming an explorer for most of his life, finally set sale for Africa in 1879 after turning 40. As Monénembo tells it, once there he recruits a crew of Senegalese infantrymen and travels to Fouta Djallon, a land he desperately wants to rule. He learns local customs that will aid him in his quest to govern. During the following years of conquests and re-conquests, Sanderval never loses his taste for European luxury and moves between Africa and France, where he publishes books on his experience and struggles to command Fouta. Eventually, he returns to Fouta with his now grown son, Georges, to find war raging between locals and the French army, finally extinguishing his lifelong dream. Monénembo attempts an epic African narrative, but the underdeveloped "king" at its center rarely comes off the page, and the many other minor players barely register, resulting in more of a long summary than a novel. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/18/2010
Release date: 11/01/2010
Genre: Fiction
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