KING ALBERT by Francis Bebey

KING ALBERT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Again, as in The Ashanti Doll (1977), Bebey sets his story in his native Cameroon; and again he savors the subtly shaded rhythms and rituals of African village life, with impressively complex dissonances somehow resolving harmoniously. The village here is Effidi--a proud place, unlike its unworthy neighbor Nkool, since it possesses not only a road but also two upwardly mobile citizens: King Albert, the only black store-owner in the town; and young Bikomou-the-Vespasian (he owns a Vespa motorcycle), a civil servant of the Administration. But problems arise when middle-aged widower Albert wishes to marry Nani, daughter of ""Unionist"" railroad worker Toutouma. First of all, Toutouma is from the hated village of Nkool. Worse yet, Toutouma--following the bent of an imported white class-system--will have nothing to do with a ""capitalist"" like Albert. And worst of all, young Bikomou is also determined to marry a responsive Nard, though the village elders must make the final choice. Political pressures add to the conflict, too: whites are pushing self-government for the country (""What country?"" asks bewildered Effidi chief Ndengue), and the ensuing elections--to choose a representative for Effidi and the ridiculous neighboring villages--raise havoc, with village elders challenged by younger village rebels. The feud between Albert and Bikomou heats up; Bikomou deflowers a happy Nard; but Albert wins her hand. And, after a short exile, Bikomou returns to the sound of welcoming village drums (which comment feelingly throughout), tactfully advises the worried old Chief, and plunges into the election campaign. Finally, then, there's righteous violence (and some angry oration) before the windup: Toutouma wins the election, Albert lands in jail, Bikomou lands in the hospital--but all ends peaceably, even if ""Times have changed, and the drums of Effidi must be silent and listen to those of Nkool."" Despite a good deal of over-attenuated dialogue and blander characters than the Ashanti Doll folk: a sly microcosm of people in political transition, resounding with deep conviction, humor, and empathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1981
Publisher: Lawrence Hill