The Radiance of the King
by Camara Laye, introduction by Toni Morrison, translated from the French by James Kirkup
At the beginning of this masterpiece of African literature, Clarence, a white man, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Flush with self-importance, he demands to see the king, but the king has just left for the south of his realm. Traveling through an increasingly phantasmagoric landscape in the company of a beggar and two roguish boys, Clarence is gradually stripped of his pretensions, until he is sold to the royal harem as a slave. But in the end Clarence’s bewildering journey is the occasion of a revelation, as he discovers the image, both shameful and beautiful, of his own humanity in the alien splendor of the king.
One of the greatest of the African novels of the colonial period, Camara Laye's The Radiance of the King has delighted and puzzled generations of readers inside and outside the continent. The delight is in the humor and elegance of the language and narrative. The puzzle lies in the book's wonderfully unsettling end, which calls on us all to respond with an interpretation of our own.
— Kwame Anthony Appiah
A classic work of modernism—a signal work in the African canon and one that every lover of literature will admire and enjoy.
— Henry Louis Gates Jr.
[The Radiance of the King] is allegorical, Kafkaesque and African in a unique way; it is a powerful and disturbing exploration of exile, quest and reconciliation with a power greater than logic or reason.
— The New York Times Book Review
[Laye's work] belongs within the tradition of classic world literature, describing a personal and cultural dilemma in accents that speak to all mankind.
The Writings of Camara Laye
"[Laye's] preoccupation with the possibilities of a deep spiritual experience which the African world seemed to him to offer constitutes the unifying point of view of all his work....[and] finds its supreme expression in Le Regard du Roi....a tour de force.
In Radiance of the King, Laye has written a book which we can read with enjoyment, amusement, and keen absorption, but which occupies the mind in such a way that new perceptions keep rising to its surface when the reading is over.