Bound to Violence

by Yambo Ouologuem. Translated by Ralph Manheim. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, $5.95. A native of West Africa, this French-educated author has written a novel in which the principal character is an imaginary African kingdom and the plot is the bloody, treachery-filled, and superstition-ridden history of the place. The style is part imitation of traditional oral history, part relatively direct narrative in the contemporary manner. Always interesting and often brilliant, the book raises doubts about the author’s intention, for it seems incredible that he can find no good, nor even any lost possibility of good, in the past of his own people. The Judeo-Islamic rulers of Makem are uniformly villainous; the French colonial administrators are incompetent; the populace at large is witless “niggertrash.” The one good and sensible character is a Catholic missionary. Does Mr. Ouologuem, who won the Prix Renaudot with this novel, really mean it, or is he, with immense and cynical cleverness, putting on l’homme?