Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Fortunes of Wangrin

Rate this book
The Fortunes of Wangrin
Amadou Hampâté Bâ
Translated by Aina Pavolini Taylor with an Introduction by F. Abiola Irele

Winner of the Grand Prix Litteraire de l'Afrique Noire

"I think this is perhaps the best African novel on colonialism and it draws very richly on various modes of oral literature." --Ralph Austen, University of Chicago

"It is a wonderful introduction to colonial rule as experienced by Africans, and in particular, to the rule of African middlemen." --Martin A. Klein, University of Toronto

"The Fortunes of Wangrin is not only a wonderful novel by one of Africa's most renowned intellectuals, it is also literally filled with information about French colonization and its impact on traditional African societies, African resistance and collaboration to colonization, the impact of French education in Africa, and a host of other subjects of interest." --Francois Manchuelle, New York University

Wangrin is a rogue and an operator, hustling both the colonial French and his own people. He is funny, outrageous, corrupt, traditional, and memorable. Ba's book bridges the chasm between oral and written literature. The stories about Wangrin are drawn from oral sources, but in the hands of this gifted writer these materials become transformed through the power of artistic imagination and license.

The Fortunes of Wangrin is a classic in Franchophone African literature.

Amadou Hampate Ba was a distinguished Malian poet and scholar of African oral tradition and precolonial history.

Aina Pavolini Taylor is an independent translator with wide experience of Africa, now living and working in Italy.

F. Abiola Irele is a professor in the Department of Black Studies at Ohio State University.

296 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1973

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Amadou Hampâté Bâ

48 books37 followers
Amadou Hampâté Bâ was born to an aristocratic Fula family in Bandiagara, the largest city in Dogon territory and the capital of the precolonial Masina Empire. After his father's death, he was adopted by his mother's second husband, Tidjani Amadou Ali Thiam of the Toucouleur ethnic group. He first attended the Qur'anic school run by Tierno Bokar, a dignitary of the Tijaniyyah brotherhood, then transferred to a French school at Bandiagara, then to one at Djenné. In 1915, he ran away from school and rejoined his mother at Kati, where he resumed his studies.

In 1921, he turned down entry into the école normale in Gorée. As a punishment, the governor appointed him to Ouagadougou with the role he later described as that of "an essentially precarious and revocable temporary writer". From 1922 to 1932, he filled several posts in the colonial administration in Upper Volta, now Burkina Faso and from 1932 to 1942 in Bamako. In 1933, he took a six month leave to visit Tierno Bokar, his spiritual leader.(see also:Sufi studies)

In 1942, he was appointed to the Institut Français d’Afrique Noire (IFAN, French Institute of Black Africa) in Dakar thanks to the benevolence of Théodore Monod, its director. At IFAN, he made ethnological surveys and collected traditions. For 15 years he devoted himself to research, which would later lead to the publication of his work L'Empire peul de Macina (The Peul Empire of Macina). In 1951, he obtained a UNESCO grant, allowing him to travel to Paris and meet with intellectuals from Africanist circles, notably Marcel Griaule.

With Mali's independence in 1960, Bâ founded the Institute of Human Sciences in Bamako, and represented his country at the UNESCO general conferences. In 1962, he was elected to UNESCO's executive council, and in 1966 he helped establish a unified system for the transcription of African languages.

His term in the executive council ended in 1970, and he devoted the remaining years of his life to research and writing. He moved to Abidjan, and worked on classifying the archives of West African oral tradition that he had accumulated throughout his lifetime, as well as writing his memoirs (Amkoullel l'enfant peul and Oui mon commandant!, both published posthumously).

(source: Wikipedia)

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
103 (34%)
4 stars
112 (37%)
3 stars
67 (22%)
2 stars
14 (4%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews
Profile Image for Harry Rutherford.
376 reviews76 followers
June 9, 2010
The Fortunes of Wangrin is my book from Mali for the Read The World challenge.

It’s a novel — or at least it seems to be universally described as a novel, despite the fact that Hampaté Bâ says in the Afterword:

I don’t know why, even is spite of the specific assertions contained in the Foreword, some people continue to ask themselves whether this narrative is fiction, reality, or a clever mixture of both…

I’ll repeat once more, then, for anyone who might still be in doubt, that I heard everything related to the life of the hero, from the account of his birth (a story told by his parents), through the relationship with the animist world, the various predictions, and so forth, all the way to the downfall caused by commercial bankruptcy, from Wangrin himself, in a Bambara often poetic, full of verve, humour, and vigour, to the soft musical accompaniment of his griot Diele Maadi. To this very day I recall with emotion Wangrin’s voice against the background of a guitar.

[…:] I rounded off the information already at my disposal by visiting everyone who had frequented him… I have made up no event or circumstances whatsoever. Every single story was told by the people in question or by someone in their circle, either griot, houseboy, or friend.

Which is interesting case. Because it does read like fiction, stylistically; I certainly read it that way and was surprised to learn that it wasn’t. It is told as a single coherent narrative with the kind of omniscient third person narrator normally associated with fiction. To use a television analogy, it is more like a dramatisation of real events than a documentary. And I don’t think it is like a biography in the standard sense, a work of history intended to establish the true events of a person’s life.

Rather, it is a work of oral history — unsurprisingly, perhaps, since Hampaté Bâ was an ethnologist and folklorist. It has the qualities of a good storyteller telling the story of their own life: not perhaps outright fabrication, but just enough massaging and selection and elision and exaggeration to turn the messiness of reality into something beautifully moulded and polished. It’s like a memoir told in the third person.

And Wangrin is certainly an interesting character; the son of a prominent family, he was sent to the colonial school to learn French and worked as an interpreter, which put him in position as the literal and symbolic intermediary between the French colonial administration and the native population, able to play off both sides against each other. Which he did, enriching himself in the process. So a bit of a crook, then, even if a likeable one.

His position between the French and the Africans makes this book a fascinating look into the functioning of colonial life; one of the more striking things for me was how thin the layer of bureaucracy seems to have been: a very small number of French administrators on their own out in the bush, in charge of a large population of people of various languages and religions with whom they share neither culture nor language. And that makes the interpreter a rather more important figure than the title suggests.

I certainly recommend the book. Like so many of these books in translation, it had a few too many endnotes for my taste, and the edition I read had some truly awful typography inflicted on it — but I can hardly blame Hampaté Bâ for that.
Profile Image for Sidinho Diaby.
5 reviews
July 7, 2017
I'm writing this review with my eyes full of tears because during the time I spent reading this book, I got attached to Wangrin and his world. The story of Wangrin is truly a beautiful story which is at the same time educational, intriguing, funny, and sad, and the author does a great job introducing the reader to the world, and developing the characters while staying very entertaining. I can't count how many times I cracked up at some of stunts Wangrin was able to pull off. This is by far one of the best books I have ever read, and I think you will enjoy it too.
Profile Image for Yaya.
19 reviews1 follower
January 5, 2020
Je suis toujours surprise par la façon dont Amadou Hampate Ba me fait pénétrer si facilement et rapidement dans l’univers de ses histoires. La façon dont il les raconte, la consistance des personnages et l’avancée du récit sont somptueux. Wangrin est un personnage fascinant et malin qui, à travers son histoire, nous permet de voir une époque autrement.
Profile Image for Rosie Kasongo.
5 reviews
May 3, 2020
Un livre fascinant qui relate l’histoire de Wangarin. On se retrouve face à un dilemme sur cette personne. On ne peut dire de lui qu’il est une bonne personne mais on ne peut non plus dire qu’il est une mauvaise personne. Fourberie, mensonge, rapport sociaux, colonisation, richesse et jeu de pouvoir compose ce livre. Je vous le recommande énormément.
Profile Image for Marcia Letaw.
Author 1 book38 followers
December 15, 2017
And this is what happens when a person is aggressive in the face of Destiny: doing battle, fighting the good fight. Such a man was Wangrin. To those who would say that it doesn't matter since all of us are condemned to the same ending, I would counter that endings and beginnings don't matter, rather it's everything in between; it's the legacy left in the hearts and lives of those we encounter. Wangrin touched and improved hundreds of lives in his journey through Elias Khoury's tunnel between two deaths(Gate of the Sun) while John Williams' Stoner touched no one.

Profile Image for Elisabeth.
10 reviews
January 12, 2013
I love Hampâté Bâ's writing style, particularly when he makes it clear to his readers that he is telling his story for their benefit by interrupting the narration to insert an important piece of information. In this novel, the reader follows Wangrin through his life as he manipulates his way into powerful positions. Often, Wangrin comes across as a very selfish, self-centered man who will stop at nothing to obtain money and power. If the reader only reads the story and skips the forward and afterward, he or she will likely leave the reading missing the entire point of the story. Bâ specifies in both the forward and the afterward that Wangrin asked him to put his story on paper in hopes that it would "not only amuse but also instruct those who read it." Bâ then goes on to reiterate in the Afterward that Wangrin only stole and manipulated those in high, powerful positions. He then proceeds to tell his readers about some of the kind and generous acts that Wangrin bestowed on the poorer parts of his society.
Profile Image for Alexandra.
19 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2009
This is an entertaining and fast-moving tale of a colonial West-African translator who uses his charm, political skills, guile and everything else at his disposal (most importantly, money and a good education) to work the system to his advantage. It beautifully and convincingly conveys the textures of spiritual and cultural life in Africa under colonialism, where political and cultural arrangements overlap and influence each other, making a strange but dynamic social environment. Like "Casablanca" with intrigue, romance and an unexpected turn of events. Check it out!
Profile Image for Parlei.
108 reviews30 followers
September 13, 2012
A fascinating "true story" told to Bâ by Wangrin himself, this story is an interesting tale about a protagonist that is not necessarily a likeable character. Pay attention to the particular details about how writing and orality becomes both his path to glory and his downfall.
Profile Image for David Smith.
783 reviews24 followers
June 3, 2016
One of the best stories I have read coming out of West Africa - Wangrin, an enterprising young man in Afrique Occidentale Francaise learns how to work the system, to his benefit and to the benefit of those around him. Much thanks to Dr. Naino at the LCBC for the recommendation.
Profile Image for Phila_imani.
18 reviews
July 31, 2020
Il ne fait aucun doute qu'Amadou Hampaté Ba est un excellent écrivain.
Il te fait rentrer dans un univers et donne vie à ses personnages.
Wantrin ni un saint ni un bandit
Un classique à lire.
Profile Image for Jo.
667 reviews68 followers
March 23, 2023
4.5 stars

Amdou Hampate Ba’s excellent novel is based on the life of a real person he knew yet feels very much like a novel. This man called ‘Wangrin’ was a citizen of what used to be the French Sudan, born in present day Mali, who attended the ‘School of hostages’ - so called as it was intended to loosen the children of notable's ties with their own tradition and make them identify with their French masters. An intelligent boy he grows up to become an interpreter in the French civil service, speaking many languages fluently and through charm, wit and intelligence makes his fortune. At the same time, he is a bit like a nineteenth century Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor and manipulating and cheating his way round both the representatives of the French colonial system and those Africans who get in his way.

Starting off with good intentions, he comes across as an opportunist and a scoundrel but there is something very lovable about his trickster nature and his care for women, children and the ill or disabled. He makes friends with the right people, manages to trick the old interpreter out of his job -making an enemy for life- putting his conscience to one side and becoming more and more corrupt as the book goes on. When his fall does eventually begin it seems to be partly because he has embraced the Western culture of drinking, and hunting without ritual; he has neglected his African side.

The novel is full of Malian culture and tradition, with a mixture of animist traditions and Islam, Wangrin hedging his bets by having both marabouts and medicine men praying and working their magic for him. Amadou was an eminent historian and folklorist, so the novel is filled with legends and stories of African culture and the novel almost feels like a fable in its structure. There are pages of notes at the back of the book which give explanations for terminology both French and West African, with Fulbe customs explained as well as customs and history. The intricate details of tradition and cultural necessities are part of many of the episodes that occur in the novel and the way in which these can coexist with the new French power structure and Catholicism. Wangrin uses his wits and wiles but has strong faith in the supernatural forces which govern the universe with fetishes to his guardian god a vital part of who he is.

Amadou wrote that, ‘This is not more than a man’s life’ but the novel is also an indictment of French colonialism in the power structures, the forced labor, the loosening of family and cultural ties to make the local people identify with the French, the nepotism and destruction of African beliefs and values. The dialogue is sparkling, the writing overall is excellent and although there are times where it can appear a little repetitive in the middle, as you watch Wangrin rise and then fall you can’t help be transfixed and keep the pages turning.
Profile Image for ElenaSquareEyes.
433 reviews15 followers
July 2, 2022
Translated by Aina Pavolini Taylor.

Set in the early 1900’s, The Fortunes of Wangrin follows the life of Wangrin, and interpreter for the French colonisers who hustles both the colonial French and his own people in order to make money and to get the life he wants.

Wangrin as a character is one of those loveable rogue kind of characters. He’s charming, corrupt, a grifter, and an opportunist. It’s admirable in a way how he thinks up these schemes that uses his privileged position of power, being an interpreter means he’s very close to high-ranking French officials and has access to the booking, records and other official documents that he can sneakily use as he wishes.

Part of Wangrin’s ultimate downfall – like almost any corrupt and opportunistic character – is that he’s greedy. He makes a lot of enemies, some with a lot more power than him, and when there’s moments where he should stop looking for the next big money-making scheme, or stop trying to manipulate someone one, he just ignores them and carries on. It’s like he’s so confident in his own abilities that he can’t foresee anyway what he’d lose.

I liked the fact that part of The Fortunes of Wangrin was set during the First World War. Being a Brit a lot of the media I’ve consumed featuring WWI is from a British or Western prospective but here, it’s seen from the French point of view, and from the point of view of the colonised. In history class we briefly learnt about how people of various British colonised countries were (or weren’t) involved in the conflict so seeing it from the French colonised citizens point of view was interesting. How Wangrin didn’t have to go and fight due to his job but so many other Black people were sent to the coast to fight but also for the white Frenchmen in charge, the day-to-day aspects of running this country wasn’t that affected by the war.

I liked how The Fortunes of Wangrin shows the realities of a colonised country. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a story set during the colonial period and seeing how Wangrin has to deal with white bureaucrats, and balance the religion and culture he grew up in with the new set ideals by the French was interesting. He’s smart and sneaky but that can’t always save him from the double standards imposed by the colonisers on him and his fellow countrymen.

The Fortunes of Wangrin is an interesting read. It’s also often surprisingly funny as Wangrin can be witty and talk himself out of conflicts in an amusing way. The humour makes it easier to read as some of the language and writing style can be a bit dry.
Profile Image for Damien Travel.
264 reviews2 followers
November 15, 2020
I had started « The Fortunes of Wangrin » (L’étrange destin de Wangrin) » by Malian author Amadou Hampaté Bâ in the flight bringing me to Bamako. Every night I continued reading a chapter on the long chair next to the hotel’s pool after swimming a few laps to relax after my working day. I was starting to fall under the spell, not only of Hampaté Bâ’s style, a captivating mix of tradition and irony, but also of Wangrin’s character. He is an interpreter in the colonial administration, a wily figure ensnaring the French officials, getting rich but letting the Malian people partake in his generosity. He looked like an African Robin Hood.
One evening, I took a cab to attend a slam-poetry show at Bamako’s French Institute. In a café in Ouagadougou, I had already learned to enjoy this type of poetry, with more rhythm, impact and commitment than the poems we had learned in high school. I was thus curious to learn about the Malian talents. I was particularly attracted by the texts of the young Hadizatou Dao. I remember a slam lashing at corruption which gangrenes Malian society, from the high ranks of government to the daily lives of school students.
After all, didn’t Wangrin’s cunning - which had allowed him to prosper under the colony and to rail the French haughtiness – become a leaden blanket paralyzing Mali and blocking the horizons of its youth? I am not going to attempt a long dissertation on the colonization’s influence on corruption in Africa, but I found the contrast between the two texts fascinating.
After the slam show, I finished reading Hampaté Bâ’s book with as much pleasure, but maybe stepping back a bit, for example when Wangrin left the administration after having made too many enemies, launched himself as a businessman, went big before declining, taken over by alcohol and pleasures. He would die poor, but at his funeral, even his strongest adversaries would come to pay homage to his glorious journey.

Profile Image for Rhoda.
621 reviews27 followers
December 30, 2022
4.5 stars

This was my read the world selection for Mali.

At the time of French colonization, Wangrin sees that it is beneficial to be an interpreter to the French Commandants and sets about ousting the current occupant and getting himself installed in the position. As a highly intellectual and resourceful individual, Wangrin easily manipulates and schemes his way through life - constantly wanting more and more, never satisfied with his current situation. He also doesn’t care who in powerful positions he rides roughshod over, making some formidable enemies along the way.

However Wangrin is not all bad and throughout his life, he always looks out for the poor, the blind or anyone else who is in need. With these people, he is prepared to share whatever he has.

Supposedly told in oral form to the author, this story is about a fascinating man who seemed able to worm him his way out of any trouble. He was canny and manipulative yet also kind and generous. Despite some of the unscrupulous things he did, as the reader I could never really dislike Wangrin as along with his good points, you just had to admire his intelligence and creative way of getting ahead.

This book also included a lot of local lore and superstitions which were really interesting, as well as the uneasy relationships with the French. Quite a fascinating and engrossing read! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5/5.
Profile Image for More Bedside Books.
160 reviews4 followers
May 15, 2023
Malian writer Amadou Hampaté Bâ in 1973 crafted The Fortunes of Wangrin from oral traditions. A biography of an African man called Wangrin and his machinations in the colonial French civil service and as a businessman gaining influence becoming a folk hero conning the rich to give to the poor. Albeit while still recruiting the latter for his own means and extensively lining his own pockets before a reversal of fortunes. Amadou Hampaté Bâ’s own forward and afterword giving context perhaps puts the answer to the question of who was Wangrin best: “A complex of contradictions”. The book artful in its entertaining storytelling is perhaps though most important for the experienced eye of the author on colonialism and traditional African cultures. As such the English edition translated by Aina Pavolini Taylor includes copious footnotes in the back. Useful also is the introduction by academic Abiola Irele. Yet it is too bad recognition of The Fortunes of Wangrin these days appears more relegated to college curriculum or global literature reading initiatives. As an award-winning classic African Francophone book, just the same neither could I pass it over.

(content notes: colonialism, alcohol, animal death, childbirth, kidnapping, polygamy, rape, suicidal thoughts, death)
52 reviews
August 7, 2018
La storia di un self made man che sfrutta la propria intelligenza per farsi strada nella società maliana e quella coloniale per il proprio interesse e la propria riccheza. Un guascone divertente e avido, generoso quando serve, ma in pace con il modo, acerrimo nemico di chi osa mettergli i bastoni fra le ruote, ma anche infantile nei desideri fino all'arroganza, manipolatore legato alle tradizioni e a ogni religione sottomano.
Un personaggio solare con pesanti ombre mostrate con leggerezza, larger than life, ma senza pretese, narrato con una serie di eventi che hanno il tono cantilenante del racconto orale, ma con una cura a renderlo letterario incredibile. Una splendida scoperta.
Profile Image for Peter.
548 reviews
June 11, 2021
At first I just thought Wangrin was a jerk, but as the story went on I came to see how he's supposed to be understood as a loveable rogue -- and how that rests on large part on the fact that the principle victims of his schemes (often defensive, actually) are the white French colonialists and their chief Black African co-opted accomplices. The ending is interesting in that regard, offering (without wanting to give too much of a spoiler) some possibility of unity. Reading this right after A Grain of Wheat, though, it's hard to see it as the most telling critique of a society divided by imperialism, interesting as it is.
256 reviews36 followers
May 25, 2021
Global Read: 122 Mali

This book was very hyped up before I read it, so it is possible that my expectations were too high. Parts were definitely funny and engaging, but overall I didn't get super into it. I spent too much time trying to figure out if Wangrin was a real person and what parts of the autobiographical novel were autobiographical. I also felt like timing was weird. A single event could take 50 pages and then major turning points would be glossed over in less than a chapter.
3 reviews
November 20, 2018
L'histoire et le parcours de Wangrin en soit sont admirables et passionnants. Seulement ce qui m'a dérangé c'est le fait qu'il y ait eu beaucoup [trop] de détails superflus et le reportage de tous les éloges n'était pas vraiment nécessaire. Cependant ça reste un livre que j'ai beaucoup aimé et dont je garde un souvenir plutôt positif.
Profile Image for Chema Caballero.
162 reviews6 followers
June 15, 2021
Clásico. Interesante novela, se supone que basada en hechos reales. Tenía ganas de leerla. Hampaté Bâ la cita varias veces en 'Oui mon commandant' y no me ha decepcionado.
Profile Image for Val.
2,425 reviews79 followers
May 23, 2016
Wangrin (not his real name) was an intelligent, French educated opportunist working within the colonial administration of French West Africa. The author tells his life story in a style which uses the oral history tradition of the indigenous population rather than as a European style biography. He is not the only African author to use an oral story-telling style; he does use it better than others I have read.
There are a lot of novels and memoirs about the culture clash of colonialism and indigenous tradition. Some educated Africans manage to find their way through that conflict, while others are lost in it. Few seem to have managed to work it to their advantage as well as Wangrin (not that he gets everything his own way). It is interesting to see how the colonial system works, particularly when it doesn't work as intended, as in this book and probably quite often in practice.
This quote describes Wangrin:
"Wangrin knew what was going on (forced labour) and suffered in his heart. His inexhaustible and innate greed, which he acknowledged impudently but also sincerely despised, without, however, being able to subdue it, did not prevent him from being a sensitive creature who inclined toward helping the poor. True, to make money, he was ready to play the most outrageous tricks, but always to the detriment of colonizers, local chiefs, or rich traders, for he considered them exploiters of the peasant masses." It is difficult to argue that any of his victims didn't deserve it.
I would like to give this book 4.5 stars and have decided to round it up to 5. It is not amazing, but I enjoyed it a lot. The story is well told and shines a light on a culture and a social and administrative structure. The style suits the story brilliantly.
Profile Image for Constance Fastré.
198 reviews15 followers
May 11, 2015
La biographie d'un Africain du début du 20ième siècle dans une colonie française, écrite par un de ses anciens amis: très original et tellement intéressant!
Je ne suis pas sûre d'apprécier Wangrin (ou en fait aucun des personnages décrit dans ce roman). Tous ces hommes ne sont guidés que par leur soif de pouvoir et/ou d'argent. Le rôle des femmes est très limité (à part en tant que mère ou objet sexuel, en gros). Mais il y a tellement de choses à apprendre sur la culture africaine! Et sur la colonisation. Alors, même si je n'aime pas trop Wangrin, il essayait de survivre selon ses propres coutumes tout en s'adaptant à la culture française, et il a réussi.
Un conte africain assez divertissant en fin de compte!
Profile Image for Kirk Johnson.
12 reviews7 followers
September 16, 2008
Had a need to read stories by authors of the African continent. This was such a surprising delight.
Profile Image for Timothee.
247 reviews
December 18, 2011
Magnifique roman, fantastique histoire le tout pris d'une magie africaine. Vraiment très très bon!! A lire absolument :)
3 reviews
November 21, 2018
Superbe livre qui me replonge dans la tradition et les us et coutume de l'Afrique noire. Ce livre me confirme a chaque fois que je le relis, que l'Afrique noire est tres liee quand il s'agit de pratique.
Displaying 1 - 29 of 29 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.