This slim novel by a young writer from Ghana uses the careers and conflicts of two brothers to dramatize the slave trade's disastrous impact on West Africa, 1800. Seku, refugee from conquered Gonja, arrives in Kumasi, capital of the powerful Asante slave empire, and joins the army to advance himself and provide comfort for his treasured wife Mbinge (other men have four), once a princess, now a vendor of bean cakes. Quickly Seku becomes a military hero and comes to the vengeful attention of Jakpa, former slave, now official record-keeper for the illiterate Asante king, and . . . Seku's brother and worst enemy. In two formal set-pieces seeming more folktale than fiction, the two men in turn confide their common history: Jakpa saved Seku's life, helped him kidnap his forbidden bride Mbinge, and was left for dead (actually to be stoned and sold into slavery) while Seku made his escape. (""This is the story . . . It is not a nice story, but it is the truth."") But Jakpa's revenge is forestalled when Mbinge is killed by yet another of Seku's old enemies in this endless coil of betrayal, murder, and revenge. Why all this hatred and bloodshed? Maalam Fuseini, senior Moslem record-keeper and Jakpa's mentor, explains that all their troubles rise from the ""sickness"" of slavery: the white slave traders ""are taking advantage of the hate we feel for each other to make us sell ourselves."" The brothers' subsequent, moving reconciliation does not alter history: an epilogue dates Kumasi's destruction 1874. (A helpful introduction provides further background.) As Boateng says of Fuseini's discussion of slavery, it is ""certainly a bit odd to switch from a case concerning death to one concerning historical knowledge,"" but he brings it off, making a surprisingly tense and engrossing tale out of an uncompromising lesson.