Helon Habila

African Epic

Black Leopard, Red Wolf

By

Hamish Hamilton 620pp £20 order from our bookshop

How do you follow a Booker Prize win? When, after claiming the award in 2015 with the wonderful A Brief History of Seven Killings, the Jamaican author Marlon James declared that he was going to write a sort of African Lord of the Rings trilogy, I am sure I wasn’t the only one who greeted that announcement with scepticism. Four years later, the first book in the Dark Star Trilogy, Black Leopard, Red Wolf, is out and I must say it is a reading experience like no other I’ve had in a long time. It is at once a pan-African fable, a magic realist thriller and historical fiction. Figures from African folk tales, like the Sasabonsam, the Ipundulu, the Sangoma and Anansi, populate the story. When the narrator is hired by a queen to bring back her consort from the land of the dead, it calls to mind a motif from Amos Tutuola’s The Palm-Wine Drinkard. But far from being merely a patchwork quilt of borrowed elements from African oral narratives, including copious Hausa, Swahili, Yoruba and Zulu proverbs, this book stands out as a postmodern collage carefully rooted in the griot tradition.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Since Dylan’s commercial and ideological heyday, the intrusion of sociology, semiology and post-structuralist thou… ,
    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,