Although he is best known for Ambiguous Adventure and little else, the importance of Cheikh Hamidou Kane (KAH-nay) in African literature remains assured. Ambiguous Adventure is a novel that examines the confrontation of two cultures, as do so many other African novels. Yet it describes the clash in spiritual and religious terms rather than in the usual economic and political ones. This juxtaposition reveals much that is profound and not subject to changing circumstances.
Kane’s social situation combined with his active intellect to produce a lasting and disturbing work. He was born into an aristocratic Toucouleur family (Muslims since the eleventh century) and attended a Koranic school until the age of ten, when he entered the French school system. He finished a philosophy baccalauréat at the Lycée of Dakar in record time. This introduction to Western thought influenced his decision to study in Paris, where he followed a double course of study in philosophy and law.
It was in Paris—faced with the daily confrontation of his culture with that of the European—that he began his novel, perhaps, like many African writers abroad, to overcome solitude and homesickness. The protagonist, Samba Diallo, is recognizable as Kane himself in his youth, with the same provenance, the same education, and the same disorientation that probably troubled the author.
Samba, on the verge of completing his Islamic studies, is sent to the...
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