Monday, August 6, 2012

Segu by Maryse Conde

Like Roots, a novel that traces the fortunes of an aristocratic family for three generations during the turbulent period of 1797-1855-ish when traditional African customs came under threat from larger conquering forces-- Islam from the northeast and later Christianity from the West.
The novel is realistic in that the characters all become rather bitter towards the end of their lives when their unfulfilled ambitions, hopes and dreams come to nought, in fact I thought the ending was quite appropriate.  It was good to get a picture of life in Africa before/not from a White perspective ... I was fascinated by the reincarnation and psychic connections but wondered how much of that was the writer's imagination. The role of the women was also interesting - the power of the first wife, the acceptance of polygamy and the concubines and the acceptance of other children not birthed as your child. Yet the women learn to operate within this set-up, an ex-slave becomes a powerful Marriage-arranger and her daughter boldly proposes to the second son. A young captured Yoruba girl learns trade in Brazil and returns back to Africa. In fact, that latter fact surprised me as I did not realise that a sizeable number of slaves returned back to Africa. Sadly the discrimination between African people with the perception that a lighter skin and non-kinky hair was somehow better also started.
I wondered if any of the characters mentioned - several notable people who lived during that period  were worked into the novel- had their Tombs destroyed by the fundamental Muslims in Mali recently.

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