Written in the third person but from the protagonist’s point of view, Ambiguous Adventure traces the education of Samba Diallo from the traditional Islamic practice of reciting the Koran in Senegal to advanced studies of philosophy in Paris. Difficult in French or English, the novel consists primarily of dialogue in which various characters espouse and debate distinctive philosophical values. Rather than merely recalling the chronology of an autobiographical journey into Western higher education, Cheikh Hamidou Kane immerses the reader in the complex dilemma of Senegalese aristocrats, who must decide how to reconcile their own Islamic faith with the materialism of modern Europe. As Samba pursues his adventure in ideas, he becomes increasingly alienated from the worldviews of both the West and French West Africa, thus raising problematic issues for French assimilationist policies in the wake of colonial conquest.
The early chapters of the novel center on debates among the nobility of the Peul people in Senegal. Samba is the spiritual and temporal heir to the traditions of the Diallobe family. By custom, he has been sent to a teacher, Thierno, who trains him in the lore and wisdom of the Koran at the Glowing Hearth, Thierno’s household. As a result of the rigorous discipline which includes begging to sustain himself physically, Samba’s intelligence and devotion prepare him to inherit Thierno’s authority as teacher. Samba’s spiritual revelations originate from his humility before God, allowing him to accept death as the salvation that transcends both the struggles of life and the fear of dying; yet his steadfast, youthful devotion is oblivious to the increasing material poverty that spreads among the people for whom he will eventually be responsible. Samba dreams only of becoming a teacher.
French administrators, however, are building schools in their effort to assimilate the conquered Diallobe. When Thierno refuses to advise the chief on whether to send his people to the new school, Samba’s aunt, the Most Royal Lady, convinces the chief to enroll...
(The entire section is 854 words.)