Book review: Segu tells tale of an epic journey through pre-colonial Africa

By Malcolm Forbes

“Segu wasn’t made for peace,” says one of the characters in Maryse Condé’s sprawling, stunning third novel. “Segu loves the smell of gunpowder and the taste of blood.” The book charts the turbulent history of the West African kingdom of Segu, and the plight of its people, the Bambara. At the same time it zones in and traces the mixed fortunes and internal struggles of key members of the aristocratic Traore family.

First published in France in 1984, then the United States in 1987, Guadeloupe-born Condé’s masterpiece is now available to a wider readership after joining the ranks of Penguin Modern Classics. In an age when publishers are quick to anoint an author and bestow classic status on any bestseller, it is refreshing to come upon a title worthy of the honour by a writer deserving of praise.

Segu begins in 1797 with a series of singular incidents. A white man is spotted approaching the gates to the kingdom. Dousika Traore, the king’s most trusted court advisor, is summoned to the palace. His concubine Sira goes into labour. And Samake, a fellow council member and Dousika’s arch-enemy, devises a plot to destroy him. Read more

Source: The National