Cover image for African novels and the question of orality
African novels and the question of orality
Julien, Eileen, 1949-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, [1992]

Physical Description:
180 pages ; 25 cm

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PQ3984 .J85 1992 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



This is an extremely well written and carefully argued book that is quite persuasive. It should be essential reading for every scholar in African literature." --Research in African Literatures

... a bold challenge and a tool for the student as well as for the scholar in African literature, and also a veritable tour de force in comparative literature." --World Literature Today

Eileen Julien has produced an astute, well-researched, and lucidly written text on issues of orality in African literature." --International Journal of African Historical Studies

... a joy to read because of the precious clarity, infectious liveliness and concision with which Julien writes." --African Studies Review

The search for oral origins in African literature is a quest for African authenticity. In a critique and revision of the conceptual category of orality as it has been understood and used by scholars, Julien stresses the transformation of narrative genres as an index of sociopolitical relations and authorial vision.

Author Notes

EILEEN JULIEN, Associate Professor of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures at Boston University, is a past President of the African Literature Association (1990-91). She writes primarily on sub-Saharan literature of French expression.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The first half of this fine book offers rich, theoretical arguments for an understanding of the connections between the oral narrative tradition and the African novel. Julien is critical of those who proclaim any aspect of oral traditions in contemporary novels a sign of African authenticity. She argues instead that the oral traditions live on dynamically only as artists are accountable to their audiences and mold the traditions to contemporary realities. In the second part of the book Julien examines three generic oral types and their relationships to six specific novels. She discusses epic and the adaptation of the contemporary hero in relationship to Ousmane Sembene's Les Bouts de bois de Dieu and Hamp"at'e B"a's Destin de Wangrin. She describes in some detail how the initiation story has been recreated and modified in Camara Laye's Le Regard du roi and Jean-Marie Adiaffi's La Carte d'identit'e. Finally, Julien examines the modern adaptations of the fable through Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Devil on the Cross and Sony Labou Tansi's La Vie et demie in which deformed characters reveal each author's views toward political power. C. Pike; University of Minnesota

Table of Contents

Part I Of Origins and Orality
1 The Search of Continuity and Authenticity
2 An Impoverished Paradigm
Part II The Arbitrariness and Specificity of Form
3 The Importance of Genre
4 A Dubious Heroism: Epic Modalities in L'Estrange Destin de Wangrin
5 The Democratization of Epic: Les Bouts de bois de Dieu
Initiation Story
6 Authority Reconstructed: Le Regard du roi
7 An Ambiguous Quest: La Carte d'identite
8 "The Emporer's New Clothes": The Lens of Fable in La Vie et demie
9 "The Mouth That Did Not Eat Itself": From Object of Representation to Medium in Devil on the Cross
10 Toward New Readings of the Novel
Works Cited