38 pages 1 hour read

Cheikh Hamidou Kane

Ambiguous Adventure

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1961

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Summary and Study Guide


Ambiguous Adventure is a 1961 novel by author Cheikh Hamidou Kane. The plot of this novel mirrors much of Kane’s life, including his birth in Senegal and studies in Paris. The version used for this guide is the 2012 edition from Melville House Publishing.

Ambiguous Adventure discusses the duality of man within the context of colonial and postcolonial societies. The novel splits the colonized and the colonizer into two distinct and opposing cultures: The former (the Diallobé) is traditional, religious, and death-focused, while the latter (the French) is modern, secular, scientific, and life-focused. The exact historical setting of the novel is unclear; however, based on references to the League of Nations, Adolf Hitler, and different modes of technology, readers can infer that it takes place in the mid-20th century.

The novel is structured as vignettes that oscillate between the settings of the Diallobé community, the city of L. in Senegal, and Paris, France. The narration style involves both subjective and objective third-person narrative. Each vignette incorporates philosophical discussion, usually consisting of a traditional point of view represented by a Diallobé person and a nontraditional/progressive point of view represented by a French person. Each chapter touches upon themes of life and death, tradition and modernity, and/or religion and science/secularization. Though neither the setting nor characterization receive much space within the novel, the reader can piece together the passage of time by characters’ inner monologues or dialogues between characters. The characters are largely vehicles for presenting different styles of thinking and encourage the reader to think about different themes from opposing perspectives.

Plot Summary

The story follows a boy (later man) named Samba Diallo on his journey from the Diallobé region of Senegal, to the city of L. in Senegal, to his studies in Paris, and finally back to the Diallobé community. In Part 1, the reader meets Samba, a student at the Glowing Hearth Islamic school whose teacher, Thierno, has singled him out as exceptional. Samba comes from a noble background, and important community leaders select him to attend the foreign school located in a nearby town. The presence of this foreign school has caused significant discussion among the Diallobé, since the community believes it will threaten their traditional and religious ways of life. Nevertheless, the chief and his sister (the Most Royal Lady) determine that in order to understand how the Western colonial powers were able to invade the Diallobé community, the younger generations should attend the foreign school.

Samba moves to the city of L., where he reunites with his father and begins learning with other children from across the region, as well as from France. Samba’s father is a respected, devout Muslim. Although initially concerned about his son’s attendance at the foreign school, he has since changed his mind on the matter. Through his education, Samba encounters different ways of thinking, but he is able to reconcile these differences and continue living in between Western and Diallobé culture.

In Part 2, Samba has moved to Paris to continue his studies in philosophy. Over time, his experiences have challenged many of the traditional and religious practices that he once fervently upheld. Although he is popular and respected by his school peers and French companions, Samba realizes that he feels alone in this city. His father eventually writes, asking him to return to the Diallobé community. Thierno has since passed away, and one of Samba’s companions has been named the new teacher at the Glowing Hearth school. However, a man known in the community as “the fool” believes Samba to be the new teacher. At this point, Samba no longer prays, which angers the fool. In a moment of rage, the fool kills Samba, who, in his first moments of death, accepts both the end of his life and the duality of his Diallobé and Western identities.