Places: A Season in Rihata

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Une Saison à Rihata, 1981 (English translation, 1988)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: Late twentieth century

Places DiscussedRihata

Rihata. Season in Rihata, ASleepy, impoverished African town standing at the bend of an unidentified river in an unnamed country. Rihata is home to people who have been forced by hard times to leave the bush country, moving from family compounds on the river’s banks, where cooperation was a way of life, to the dubious modernity of isolated, rickety colonial-style buildings in town. Like the bush dwellers, the Guadeloupan mulatto Marie-Hélène moves to Rihata. When she first comes to this country, she and her bank-manager husband, Zek, live in the capital city of N’Daru. After she has an affair with Zek’s brother, Madou, Zek asks for a transfer to Rihata, where nothing ever happens. To the people in Rihata, Marie-Hélène is an outsider–almost a white woman. Living in a kind of mental no-man’s-land, she watches her life disintegrate as she waits for her brother-in-law to come to Rihata to celebrate the anniversary of the coup d’état that brought to power the country’s brutal dictator.


Farokodoba. Town in which Madou, a high-level minister in the unpopular government, is assassinated by rebels. Farokodoba and its neighboring town of Bafing are, if possible, even more claustrophobic and isolating than Rihata. Illuminated only by the lights of peanut sellers, the town is almost pitch dark at night, casting dark shadows on Madou’s attempts to reconcile with his brother and negotiate an alliance with the socialist government of the neighboring country to the north.

Marie-Hélène’s bedroom

Marie-Hélène’s bedroom. Site both of Marie-Hélène’s imprisonment and of the means of her escape. As a place of imprisonment, her bedroom is the place where she surrenders to sexual needs and thus seals the contract of her unhappy marriage. However, the dreams she has while sleeping there offer her release from both time and space, allowing her escape from a life in which she feels uprooted and homeless.


N’Daru. Capital city of the unnamed African country and the most corrupt of the three urban centers described in the novel. Possibly modeled, in part, on Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire), N’Daru is divided unequally between rich and poor. The most important job in the city is that of chief of police.

Here Madou is popular with citizens and beloved by President Toumany; he lives a charmed life in N’Daru. Before he is to return there, however, he is assassinated by a guerrilla fighter from the north intent on avenging Madou’s arrest of a popular leader. The murder sabotages Zek’s and Marie-Hélène’s chances for a better life and also plays into Toumany’s hands.

The dictator receives the news of Madou’s death in his magnificent, heavily guarded palace, surrounded by a 250-acre park. He privately boasts that he fooled Madou into believing an alliance with the neighboring socialist country would help liberalize his own regime, and he capitalizes on Madou’s death by making him honorary prime minister in death, thereby ensuring that he will never need to appoint another person to that position. Madou’s removal thus makes possible Toumany’s elimination of all potential rivals and the isolation of his country from the rest of the world.

BibliographyHewitt, Leah D. “Inventing Antillean Narrative: Maryse Condé and Literary Tradition.” Studies in Twentieth Century Literature 17, no. 1 (Winter, 1993): 79-96. A thoughtful analysis of themes in Condé’s works, including Heremakhonon and A Season in Rihata. Also examines Condé’s narrative technique, pointing out the similarities between Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (1928) and Condé’s Crossing the Mangrove.Larrier, Renée. “Maryse Condé.” In Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, edited by Steven R. Serafin and Walter D. Glanze. Rev. ed. Vol. 5. New York: Continuum, 1993. Informative overview of Condé’s life and works. Examines the major themes and narrative techniques in her novels.Ngate, Jonathan. “Maryse Condé and Africa: The Making of a Recalcitrant Daughter?” A Current Bibliography on African Affairs 19, no. 1 (1986-1987): 5-20. Useful analysis of Condé’s works and their relationship to Africa, including the use of Africa as a setting for A Season in Rihata.Smith, Arlette M. “The Semiotics of Exile in Maryse Condé’s Fictional Works.” Callaloo 14, no. 2 (1991): 381-388. Well-argued examination of biological mothers, adoptive mothers, and the seductress figure in A Season in Rihata and other works. Suggests that the metaphors may represent Condé’s own conflict as an Antillean reconciling her African roots and Western values.Taleb-Khyar, Mohamed B. “An Interview with Maryse Condé and Rita Dove.” Callaloo 14, no. 2 (1991): 347-366. Provides invaluable insight into Condé’s approach to literature.
Categories: Places