The King of Kahel
This tale is a loosely based story of Olivier de Sanderval, a Frenchman with an obsessive desire to explore Fouta Djallon, located in the current country of Guiana, and become its ruler. In 1879, he left France for Africa. Making friends and enemies along the way, he met several African tribes and suffered from terrible diseases. He learned the customs of the tribes, which enabled him to eventually negotiate his terms for obtaining a small kingdom to rule. With a wife and son remaining in France, he managed to return home periodically, until his wife died. He then returned to Africa with his only son. While living in France, he became famous for his books on Africa, while attempting to rule Kahel from a distance. A war between the French army and the local tribes eventually caused him to lose his kingdom and his reputation.
This novel is an English translation of a French novel written in 2008. The French-speaking author, Tierno Monenembo, is a native of Guinea. He researched the life of Sanderval and grew to like and respect his determination, courage and obsession to become ruler of a French territory at a time when many European countries were racing to colonize African tribal areas, usually by force.
I found the story confusing at times because it introduced so many minor characters, who were interspersed throughout the book. A list would have been helpful. Also, much of it read like a non-fiction travelogue, without any consideration to fleshing out the characters. Even though the protagonist suffered throughout the book, either from disease or from being alone, I never felt compassion for him. I must admit I was glad when I finished reading it.