Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review #7: The Blind Kingdom by Véronique Tadjo

Disclaimer: I read this in the original French, so I can't speak to the quality of the translation or any differences found within it. 

The Blind Kingdom is a fairy tale of sorts--a short, beautifully poetic book about a far away land ruled by King Ato IV. He is the leader of the Blind, a group of unseeing people who, many years ago, conquered the indigenous people, now called the Others. Ato and his daughter, Akissi, along with their people, live in luxury, while the Others live in the slums across town. The story follows the love story between Akissi and Karim, the king's secretary, who is working undercover as a spy for the revolutionary movement of the Others.

The plot is fairly simple, but the beauty of Tadjo's writing elevates it beyond a traditional Romeo and Juliet type story. The story is written in a series of vignettes,  all stylistically different--some are almost poems, others are more traditional narratives. Some sites actually classify this as a collection of stories or poems, but I found it to be a fairly cohesive story.

One of the more interesting elements of the story is that it is a clear allegory for the conflict in the Ivory Coast, both past and present. While Tadjo was clearly purposely drawing parallels with the situation in the early 90's, when the novel was written, it is eerie how much those same parallels align with the situation there both around the time of their coup d'état in the early aughts, as well as the current crisis. These connections might not be clear to anyone who hasn't been following the recent news from there, or who doesn't have any pre-existing knowledge of the Ivory Coast's political troubles, but it would definitely be worth it to do some brief research before reading this novel in order to fully appreciate what Tadjo's doing.

I really enjoyed this book--it's a pretty quick read, mostly due to Tadjo's lyrical language. Even though the plotline is very familiar, Tadjo presents it in a very fresh way. The backdrop of violence and cultural conflict make it much more interesting than a typical romance about star-crossed lovers. It's a purposefully simple story, whose main purpose is to convey Tadjo's message about the consequences of discrimination and divisions within a nation.

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