cover image The Children of Segu

The Children of Segu

Maryse Conde. Viking Books, $18.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-670-82981-1

Sequel to Guadeloupan author Conde's highly praised Segu , this historical novel trudges through the 19th-century tribal wars, Islamic conquest and French occupation of the African kingdom of Segu, situated on the Niger River in what is now Mali. The many characters here, identified by their kinship bonds, flank themselves around the heirs of the Traore family, nobles formerly close to the throne. Now cousins Muhammad and Olubunmi are caught in the jihad waged by the fanatical El-Hadj Omar, whose son Amadou eventually rules Segu. Conde trains close attention on the tenets of Islam and the local animistic religion it displaces before shifting the action to Jamaica, where Christians from Segu seek refuge. But the bloody Morant Bay Rebellion of 1865 dashes their hopes. Returning to Africa, the saga focuses on devout Omar and his young wife, Kadija, the next generation of Traores, as the Segu resist the French. Male characters supply the dominant points of view; women are seen as objects. Exhaustive scholarship by Conde, a former Sorbonne instructor, suffocates the narrative. (Nov.)