Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2008 Africa Winner: The Hangman's Game
for The Hangman’s Game.
A young Guyanese woman sets out to write an historical novel based on the 1823 Demerara Slave Rebellion and the fate of an English missionary who is condemned to hang for his alleged part in the uprising, but who dies in prison before his execution. She has wanted to document historical fact through fiction, but the characters she invents make an altogether messier intrusion into her life with their conflicting interests and ambivalent motivations. As an African-Guyanese in a country where a Black ruling elite oppresses the population, she begins to wonder what lay behind her ‘ancestral enslavement’, why fellow Africans had ‘exchanged silver for the likes of me’. As a committed Christian she also wonders why God has allowed slavery to happen. Beset by her unruly characters and these questions, the novel is stymied. In an attempt to unblock it she decides that she should take up a family contact to spend some time in Nigeria, to experience her African origins at first hand...
Karen King-Aribisala has written a densely layered, challengingly ambitious work of fiction. There is the actual historical novel, the thoughts of the fictive writer about it, the drama of the narrator’s life in Nigeria and the seepage between the different worlds. As such The Hangman’s Game has much to say about the Guyanese past and present, and the nature of postcolonial power in both Africa and the Caribbean. And if The Hangman’s Game is provocatively post-modern in its self-reflexivity on the nature of both historical and fictional writing, its ideas are dramatically communicated through action in a novel that is rich in tension, dark humour and complex, strikingly drawn characters.
"Studiously plotted, wondrously told, The Hangman’s Game is a tale by a narrator who has mastered the ropes."~ Niyi Osundare
The Hangman’s Game
Peepal Tree Press, Leeds.
Published: 03 September 2007
The Hangman's Game is a superb work of fiction which is kept alive page after page by this writer's subtle and sophisticated historical imagination. Karen King-Aribisala achieves a novel and persuasive fusion of two distinct historical moments in the African diasporic adventure: the slave revolt of 1823 in then British Guyana and the heroic resistance to the military authoritarian rigours inflicted on contemporary Nigeria. We experience both centuries in a single moment of consciousness. She explores with great delicacy the urgent temptations of the flesh experienced by men and women whose missionary life support is an abiding religious fervour.
King-Aribisala forces us to witness how murder can be the modern soldier's casual pastime and alerts us to the hidden vanity which may flaw every hero's display of spectacular sacrifice. The Hangman's Game should have a transatlantic constituency of readers.
Karen King-Aribisala was born in Guyana. She has travelled widely, having been educated in Guyana, Barbados, Italy, Nigeria and England. She is now living and working in Nigeria where she is Professor of English in the department of English, University of Lagos, Nigeria. She is a writer of non-fiction and fiction and regarding the latter she has published several short stories and poems in various journals such as Wasafiri, Presence Africaine, The Griot and Bim. Her first collection of short stories, Our Wife and Other Stories, won the Best First Book Prize in the Commonwealth Prize (African Region) 1990/91. Her second work, Kicking Tongues, is a blending of poetry and prose, in which she transposes Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales to modern-day Nigeria. She is the recipient of a number of awards such as two James Michener Fellowships for creative writing at the University of Miami, a Ford Foundation Grant and British Council grants.