(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Guardian of the Word relates the events surrounding the rise and reign of Sundiata, a thirteenth century Africa leader. The story was told to Camara Laye by a noted griot, a traditional storyteller in Guinea, in West Africa. Literally “the guardian of the word,” the griot has long played an important role for his people by keeping alive their political and social history. This oral tradition, handed down from generation to generation, survived the colonial period and, since independence, has been revived by Africans seeking to understand their past more fully. Laye’s novel is one such effort; during 1963, he recorded the words of a modern griot named Babu Conde, then transcribed them into a purely African work. The voice of Babu Conde speaks throughout the tale; thus the narrative style belongs to him, not to Laye’s inventiveness.

After framing the central story with genealogy and a history of earlier rulers, the griot tells of the miracles and adventures that made Sundiata’s life legendary. He begins by revealing how Sundiata’s mother, Sogolon, ugly and hunchbacked, marries Maghan Kon Fatta. To this aging ruler and his mysterious second wife Sundiata is born, during a violent storm, but, in spite of the prophecies heralding his birth, Sundiata appears at first to be a disappointment. Unable to walk until he reaches the age of ten, the boy only then begins to fulfill his destined promise.

Not long thereafter, with his...

(The entire section is 510 words.)