Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What I Read: The Radiance of the King

So lately I've stopped adhering strictly to the TIME Top 100 Novels list and instead have been browsing the "world literature" section of my library, picking up books, and then replacing things on the list.

That's how I found The Radiance of the King (Le Regard du Roi). Any book with an introduction by Toni Morrison has to be a good choice, after all.

The story revolves around Clarence, a kind of useless European who has found himself stranded in a fictional, unnamed African country. In debt, he decides that his whiteness is sufficient grounds for him to find employment in the king's court. An old beggar agrees to help Clarence out, but can't deliver much. After a failed attempt to see the king, the beggar convinces Clarence to come south with him, because the king is certainly going to come south at some point, and they will have another chance to plead for an audience.

The rest of the book concerns Clarence's travels southward, and then his life in the village.

And at some point it totally lost me.

My background is in reading literature (generally) fairly closely, so I legitimately enjoy a lot of books that people often find difficult or complicated (#humblebrag) but sometimes things are beyond my ken. That's what happened with The Radiance of the King. It started in familiar territory and I was really excited to see how Laye would subvert my favorite though incredibly problematic "African adventure" genre. When I closed the book, I wasn't sure if anything had been subverted, or if I just have crude tastes that require crude caricatures to make a point.

In other words, I thought it was going to be much more obvious than it was. Still, I'm glad I read it. The question remains of who should be booted off the list to make room for this book? I'm getting down to the wire on the TIME Top 100 Novels list. In the end I decided to put away Call It Sleep, as the only versions available are Swedish translations and I don't know if I'm really ready for that kind of challenge.

If you want something weird and challenging, then by all means go for The Radiance of the King. If you want to branch out into Guinean literature by way of Laye, it might be easier to go for his other works, which all sound more down-to-earth and autobiographical than surreal extended metaphor. The most prominent one seems to be L'enfant Noir (The Dark Child or The African Child, depending on your translation). Once I finish the rest of this list (only 14 more to go!), I'm sure I'll check that one out.

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