Monday, July 27, 2009

With thanks to John Self at the asylum blog.

Colony by Hugo Wiclcken begins with Sabir, a former soldier, hero of the Great War, and petty criminal who is being transported to serve a sentence in French Guinea. A gruesome experience awaits him andSabir knows that even after serving his sentence, should he survive, he will never again be able to return to France. He is forever an exile. Cast off physically and metaphorically from French society.

The Colony and its administration is described as a living hell, both for guards and prisoners. Wilcken portrays the jungle is almost a hellish netherworld from which there is ultimately no escape. Besides Sabir is totally alone. His father disowned him and his fiancée was nowhere to be seen when his prison ship set sail for The Colony.

In the second part of the novel we are introduced to Manne, a deserter from the Great War who poses as an amateur botanist who, under the pretext of carrying out a survey of the area, ends up living in the camp commanders residence. He meets the commander’s wife, who asks him to help her escape from the camp. She feels she is as much a prisoner as the men serving their time.

However their escape plans do not turn out as planned and the whole escapade is seen as an exercise in stupidity. The reality is that no one in the colony can escape. Everyone, regardless of status, is trapped and facing a potential life sentence.

The third and final part of the novel can best be described as an hallucinating fantasy, a metaphor for the delusional grandeur of the colonial powers.

Idealism in the colony in the form of the new camp commander is slowly ground down and eroded throughout the novel. From grandiose plans to turn the colony into a mini France to the realisation that such actions are brimming with futility. The guards maintain a façade of discipline and at times are no better than the men they are guarding. The camp commander is trapped in various bottles of rum. His wife in her own psychosis.

The Colony can be said to be a damning incitement of France’s and Europe’s colonial past. Far from bettering the lot of the colonised peoples, the underlings of imperial governments were forced to face the fact that their fate and those of the people they ruled were intertwined.

Part Papillion, part One Hundred Years of Solitude, Colony will be enjoyed by those readers who wish themselves to be taken on quite a different intellectual pathway.


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