Ambiguous Adventure

by Cheikh Hamidou Kane

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Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 372

Ambiguous Adventure is Kane’s only novel, yet it represents a crucial step in the evolution of French West African literature. In its setting and theme the novel addresses a common dilemma of the intellectual elite in colonial Senegal and throughout Francophone Africa. One of the primary voices in the negritude movement, which espoused black cultural values and Africa as a source of inspiration, Kane rejects the position of earlier Senegalese novelists, such as Bakary Diallo, who sought to justify assimilation by demonstrating loyalty and by documenting the struggle to attain French citizenship. Indeed, Samba Diallo’s last name suggests that Kane is quite conscious of his second-generation challenge to the assimilation supported by novelists from 1910 to the 1930’s. The negritude writers, however, emphasized African heritage far more than they examined the implicit damage of colonialism. In this regard, Kane not only rejects the blind wish of earlier novelists to integrate culturally and politically with France but also anticipates postcolonial Senegalese novels, such as those by Ousmane Sembene, that are devoted to a political commitment in elevating those Senegalese who were not subjected to assimilationist policies.

Kane’s novel is unique in that it represents the first direct challenge to the philosophy of assimilation. Moreover, Kane withheld publication of his novel for nearly ten years, waiting until independence to seek a publisher, perhaps to discern the political direction of Senegal and perhaps to hone the aesthetics of his craft to a sharpened if ambiguous clarity. In this respect, Ambiguous Adventure is also unique, for it offers a new language in African literature, setting a dialectical, discursive Western style against the repetitive lyricism of Koranic literary style. The linguistic synthesis reflects the duality of cultural perspectives within Kane himself, yet the novel—written in French—affirms the Islamic faith. The title of the novel identifies the aesthetic method, while, at the same time, it describes the strategies of an ideological battleground. Because Ambiguous Adventure is born of a particular period in Senegal’s history, it remains a singular achievement. No other African novel is quite like it, and, given the waning of assimilation, another that belongs so much to its time and yet leaves so much ambiguously undetermined for the future is unlikely.

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Literary Criticism and Significance