The Lieutenant of Kouta cover
The Lieutenant of Kouta
The Lieutenant of Kouta is the first novel in Massa Makan Diabaté’s award-winning trilogy. Featuring an introduction by leading Diabaté scholar Cheick M. Chérif Keïta and Shane Auerbach, it tells the story, part tragicomic and part hagiographic, of an African lieutenant in the French Army who returns as a decorated hero from the battlefields of Europe to Kouta, a fictionalized version of the author’s own birthplace, the Malian town of Kita. Upon his return, Siriman Keita finds it difficult to adjust to village life as he navigates traditional customs in his attempts to create his place in the predominantly Muslim Kouta. The novel offers a rich and nuanced representation of Mali on the brink of independence; it is a tapestry of traditional Mandinka society and the French colonial apparatus, illustrating the dynamic interplay between the two. This text is, ultimately, a story of one man’s transformation coinciding with that of his country.
Subjects: Fiction | African Studies
Publication Date: February 1st, 2017
128 pages| 6 in x 9 in
Massa Makan Diabaté (1938–1988) was a Malian author and griot. His trilogy of novels—Le lieutenant de Kouta, Le coiffeur de Kouta, and Le boucher de Kouta—won the 1987 Grand prix international de la Fondation Léopold Sédar Senghor.  

Shane Auerbach is a PhD candidate in economics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and a visiting instructor at Carleton College. His research focuses on microeconomic theory and industrial organization.  

David Yost received his PhD in English from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. His short stories have appeared in more than thirty magazines, including Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and The Sun, and he is an editor of the anthology Dispatches from the Classroom: Graduate Students on Creative Writing Pedagogy.  

Early Praise

"Framed in the existential struggles of a Maninka veteran of World War I, the author bares the soul of a conflicted West African community on the verge of its struggle for independence, as the protagonist careens along an entertainingly unpredictable path laced with pithy native expressions, seasoned with droll proverbial wisdom, and marked by deeds of gratuitous cruelty, sentimental gallantry, and comic self-destruction. Masterfully and boldly translated in a polished style sensitive to esoteric nuances of the rich Maninka culture, this book is ideal for university courses in African studies."
David C. Conrad, Professor Emeritus of African History, State University of New York at Oswego
"Diabaté’s novel has a unique way of being a novel of the in-between: between the colonial project and the resilience of West African life; between orality and writing; between French and Maninka. What makes it unique is that the drama of being in-between is treated with humor and funniness. We smile at the many ways in which the veteran “lieutenant” Keita, returning home, appears totally displaced in his native village of Kouta and a total stranger to his own people, and at the same time we sense how wounded and divided with himself he is. This is why The Lieutenant of Kouta is indeed a classic of literature: as it transports us into the life of a village of Mali in the years before independence, it narrates, through the eccentricities of Lieutenant Siriman Keita, the universal human experience of homecoming, of reconciliation, and of peace with oneself."
Souleymane Bachir Diagne, Professor of Philosophy and French at Columbia University
"A tragicomic classic rippling with insights into colonialism, masculinity, and the intricate weave of daily life in one Muslim village in Mali, Diabaté’s work appears here in a crisp and clean translation that is true to the original and a joy to read."
Gregory Mann, Professor of History, Columbia University, and author of Native Sons: West African Veterans and France in the Twentieth Century

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