Frederick H. Lodge of Nine Muses No. Nahum J. Bachelder 3 September — 22 April , 49th governor of New Hampshire.
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Welcome to The Exploded View, an occasional blog featuring long-form essays with an emphasis on world literature in translation. Image from Le Monde. Many additional works of history, biography, and ethnography appeared in the years that followed. Since its initial utterance, this quote has appeared frequently to bolster claims for the value of African oral traditions, and it has become so ubiquitous that it is is often wrongly attributed, if attributed at all.
By contrast, his work remains relatively unknown and under-read in anglophone circles. Perhaps the most obvious answer is that the global literary market remains overwhelmingly dominated by novels. His achievement consists in the creative adaptation of mode to material, reflected here in the complex narrative procedures employed to give expression to the multiple levels of an expansive creative imagination. But The Fortunes of Wangrin defies both of these tactics.
In addition to The Fortunes of Wangrin lacking a straightforward genre classification, the author himself lacks a ready analogue that would, through the reference, make his work seem more relevant to the European reader.
They were given the kind of education that enabled them to become servants, houseboys, cooks, or low-ranking civil servants such as copy clerks, telegraphists, or male nurses.
The most intelligent of them became school instructors. Instead, I refer to his consummate way of being in the world, in his world, a world that requires constant negotiation between numerous cultures and languages French, Bambara, Fula, etc. What makes Wangrin exemplary is that his moral code fluxes dynamically and in tune with the uncertainties of his own in-between position.
The narrator expresses as much midway through the tale: Wangrin was a rogue, true, but his soul did not lack sensitivity. Although his heart was consumed by a desire to make money by any conceivable means at his disposal in order to satisfy his congenital covetousness, there was much goodness, generosity, and even grandeur in his makeup.
The poor and the many people who had benefited by his unostentatious help were well acquainted with that side of his nature. Although his behavior was cynical toward the mighty and the favorites of fortune, it was at no time despoiled of a certain elegance. Though he may have spent a lifetime stealing from the rich and powerful both European and African , Wangrin remains generous with the common people to his dying day.
He only gloats in the presence of those who he beats at their own game. Image from African Success. Even his arch-nemesis Romo Sibedi sings his praises in the end. It is true that many mid-twentieth-century African texts often showcased the corrupting and alienating effects of colonialism and European education.
But again, The Fortunes of Wangrin strikes me as a horse of a different color. Indeed, his power lies in his being a cultural and political chameleon who can manipulate all of the systems that are in place — both European and African — to his own advantage. Phillips also sees this as the source of much pleasure for the reader. Nevertheless, Phillips stops short of hailing Wangrin as an exemplar.
And I keep harping on this point because it seems crucial for understanding both why this text is important and why readers in the English-speaking world should pay more attention to it. His oral tale is our tale, and we should listen to it carefully. It seems to me that this and other universalizing gestures, which are meant to help sell books, really just do such books a disservice, erasing their particularity and obscuring the lessons readers might otherwise draw from that particularity.
Mouton, Indiana University Press, Armand Colin, Three Continents Press, Vie et enseignement de Tierno Bakar, le sage de Bandiagara. Seuil, . World Wisdom Inc. Beti, Mongo. Buchet-Chastel, Translated by Peter Green as Mission to Kala. Heinemann, Translated by Hugh A. Harter as The Simple Past. Fagunwa, D. The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. Translated by Wole Soyinka, Random House, Irele, F. Kane, Cheikh Hamidou.
Julliard, Translated by Katherine Woods as Ambiguous Adventure. Oyono, Ferdinand. Une vie de boy. Translated by John Reed as Houseboy. Phillips, Caryl. Publishers Weekly. Review of The Fortunes of Wangrin. Accessed 10 Aug. Tutuola, Amos. Grove Press,
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Welcome to The Exploded View, an occasional blog featuring long-form essays with an emphasis on world literature in translation. Image from Le Monde. Many additional works of history, biography, and ethnography appeared in the years that followed. Since its initial utterance, this quote has appeared frequently to bolster claims for the value of African oral traditions, and it has become so ubiquitous that it is is often wrongly attributed, if attributed at all. By contrast, his work remains relatively unknown and under-read in anglophone circles.
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Every single story was told by the people in question or by someone in their circle, either griot, houseboy, or friend. Which is interesting case. It is told as a single coherent narrative with the kind of omniscient third person narrator normally associated with fiction. To use a television analogy, it is more like a dramatisation of real events than a documentary. It has the qualities of a good storyteller telling the story of their own life: not perhaps outright fabrication, but just enough massaging and selection and elision and exaggeration to turn the messiness of reality into something beautifully moulded and polished. And Wangrin is certainly an interesting character; the son of a prominent family, he was sent to the colonial school to learn French and worked as an interpreter, which put him in position as the literal and symbolic intermediary between the French colonial administration and the native population, able to play off both sides against each other. Which he did, enriching himself in the process.