Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Last of the African Kings by Maryse Conde

I just recently finished "The Last of the African Kings" by Maryse Conde. I picked it up because it addresses a topic which interests me: what is the relationship of African-Americans to the African Diaspora elsewhere? In this story, the king of Benin is exiled in Martinique and leaves behind a child. The child is well aware of his father's heritage, he is expected to be royal, but can't get up the energy to be anything but a loafer(Conde's words, not mine). All his descendants fall into the same trap. Spero, the last in this royal line, marries an African-American from Charleston who seems attracted only to her husband's ancestry. Conde seems to criticize those American who cling too tightly to Africa. Spero scoffs at his wife's back-to-Africa tendancies and their daughter's flight to Benin is viewed as a tragedy, even though she's there for a good cause. Conde has been compared to V.S. Naipul for her criticism of the former colonies and her lack of condemnation of the colonizers. The King, of course, hates the French for taking away his kingdom and denying him a proper funeral in Benin. But the descriptions of his desired funeral include salves, wives and concumbines being buried alive to join him in death. Not a positive picture of African royalty. It didn't answer all the questions I had on the topic, but it was one author's vision and it was interesting.

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