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Ahmadou Kourouma

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To purchase Monnew

Title: Monnew
Author: Ahmadou Kourouma
Genre: Novel
Written: 1990 (Eng. 1993)
Length: 254 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Monnew - US
Monnew - UK
Monnew - Canada
Monnè, outrages et défis - Canada
Monnè, outrages et défis - France
  • French title: Monnè, outrages et défis
  • Translated by Nidra Poller
  • Awarded the Prix des Nouveaux Droits de l'homme, Prix CIRTEF, and the Grand Prix de l'Afrique noire

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Our Assessment:

B+ : rich panorama of African history

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Nation A+ 22/3/1993 John Leonard
San Fran. Chronicle . 4/4/1993 Lisa Jensen
World Lit. Today B+ Winter/1994 Kenneth Harrow

  From the Reviews:
  • "I am aware of no other novel that so richly evokes what colonialism felt like to its African victims, or how the historical and metaphysical baggage of the imperium was even translated into a culture half animist and half Islamic; and certainly none as loving or skeptical, as pyrotechnic and somehow jaunty." - John Leonard, The Nation

  • "(A)nother striking and powerful work (.....) (M)ost ironically, the overall "artistic" effect of the translation does not work to convey Kourouma's powerful irony, but is in fact more stilted and formal than the original. His is perhaps a voice that cannot be translated, but the weaknesses in this effort worsen the situation. This said, one must recognize in Monnew a major novel well worth the attention of scholars and teachers despite the flaws in translation." - Kenneth Harrow, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Monnew takes its title from the recurring Malinke term, monnè. An introductory passage offers some suggestions as to the meaning of the word:

Outrage, defiance, contempt, insult, humiliation, fury ... all these words, and many more, but it still wouldn't be a complete translation.
       It is a specifically Malinke term (Kourouma himself is Malinke), and it is something that never goes away for the duration of this narrative, something that the (African) characters are always acutely aware of.
       Monnew covers the time from the conquest by the French to the post-WWII struggle for independence in the African kingdom of Soba. It centers on the Soba-ruler, Djigui, who lives and rules for over a hundred years (and is also called, in the French original, "Centenaire" ("Centenarian") and in this translation "AgeOldMan"). He is a rich, complex character, shifting with the times as he reluctantly works together with the French, trying to maintain his integrity and the traditions of his people, gradually losing his once all-powerful grip even as he is transformed by the ages.
       The colonial era is exposed in all its horror, the natives forced to build a railway (that -- "supreme monnè !" -- never reaches Soba) and fight in the foreigners' incomprehensible wars. French politics intrude (Pétain and de Gaulle are surprisingly (and absurdly) influential presences), and there are brutal struggles and rare acts of kindness. The foreigners remain foreign -- but exerting huge influence over almost all aspects of life.
       Kourouma weaves many stories into this tapestry -- asides, and variations on Malinke history (any truth, he constantly implies, remains elusive). The colonialists are almost all despicable, but the novel is not simply black and white. The African response and attitude is also presented in all its variations. Worlds -- African, Islamic, Christian, colonial -- clash resoundingly because they are so completely different, and Kourouma conveys this very well. Myth and history (the World War II period especially) are also effectively tied together.

       In the book's first pages Nidra Poller offers a "Translator's Note", ominously beginning:
To translate a text is to lay it bare, bare beyond the nakedness of skin and bones, bare to the depths of its synapses, naked down to its heartbeat. There, in the moment of passage from one language to another, the text is suspended in the air of its own respiration.
       And so on. Scary stuff. And unfortunately borne out by the text itself, a translation that is, as Kenneth Harrow wrote in World Literature Today, "more stilted and formal than the original".
       Nevertheless, much of what Kourouma tried to convey does come across (though perhaps not as well or effectively as in the original), and even in this translation Monnew is certainly a worthwhile and important book.

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Ahmadou Kourouma: Other books by Ahmadou Kourouma under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Index of books relating to Africa

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About the Author:

       Ahmadou Kourouma was born in the Ivory Coast in 1927 and died in 2003.

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