Clotted family saga set in 19th-century West Africa; not a first novel, but first major US publication for this French author, herself a descendant of the Bambara. The Bambara lived in Segu, a warlike, slave-owning kingdom near present-day Mall They were fetishists and ancestor-worshippers, and their slow eclipse by the rising force of Islam is the theme of this novel, which covers the years 1797-1840, and, while set mainly in Segu, also ranges far afield, from Timbuktu to Lagos, from London to Brazil. It is the Traore clan, outranked only by the royal family, on which the author focuses, but there are so many of them, and so many viewpoint switches, that the going is rough, and made rougher by the author's favorite narrative device, the rhetorical question: ""Who would suceed Amadou Cheikou? Who would have his symbols of sovereignty? His son Amadou Amadou? His younger brother? Or one of his father's younger brothers?"" What we have, then, is an endless, wearying chronicle of births, weddings, deaths, rapes, suicides and executions, without dramatic highlighting or even a lead character to act as guide, though there is an obvious candidate in Tiekoro, the first of the family to convert to Islam, and the one who years later is executed for his faith, shortly before Islam's final triumph over Segu. But even Tiekoro gets lost in the shuffle, as the focus shifts to the secondary theme of Westerners importing Christianity, and the tribulations of brother Malobali, and nephew Eucaristus, at the hands of the missionaries. The grand theme of a religious movement reordering lives is barely discernible in this classic case of a can't-see-the-forest-for-the-trees fiasco.