The Hangman's Game was awarded the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award, Africa Region.
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.
Karen King-Aribisala was born in Guyana; for some years she has lived in Nigeria where she teaches at the University of Lagos.