Vamba Sherif

I must have been ten or eleven years old when I discovered my passion for words in Kolahun, my birthplace in northern Liberia.  At this period of my life, I already could speak Arabic, English and three languages, Gbandi, Mendi and Mandingo. But most importantly, I wrote love letters for men intended for women who could not read them. Letter writing prepared me for what I would become later, a novelist. I lived in Kuwait for a while and the land offered me the opportunity to delve into world literature.  In the Netherlands, I read international law, but my passion for literature, history, films and music remained. I am a cosmopolitan, the cultures of the world interest me, and I feel at home in China, Holland or America as much as I do in Senegal, Mali or Liberia. My interest ranges from cooking, traveling and collecting rare books.

The land of the fathers (1999): A novel about the founding of Liberia. Edward Richards, born into slavery in America, leaves for Liberia to join his beloved Charlotte after not having seen her for twenty years. In Liberia, he’s confronted with the difficulties the settlers face regarding the tribes scattered along the coast of Liberia. He decides to head for the interior to preach the word of God to the natives. There he meets a remarkable who would alter his look on life forever. The man is Halay. When the land is threatened with war and the oracle ordains that a man must sacrifice himself in order to avert an imminent war, it is Halay who rises up to the challenge.     

The Kingdom of Sebah(2003): A Liberian family migrates to Europe to seek its fortune. The family's progress is however hampered not by the challenges the new world throws on their path but by the secrets they carry with them. The story is told from the perspective of the son, who’s a writer.

Bound to Secrecy (2007): The novel deals with the theme of power. It was inspired by my meeting with Charles Taylor in 2000. I was visiting Liberia for the first time since 1989. Taylor had assembled notables from northern Liberia, my birthplace, and compelled them to pledge their support for him in his war against their children who had started an uprising against his government. The power play that I witnessed that day, the fear, the humiliation, the metamorphoses in the part of a people who had succumbed to fear, compelled me to explore the theme of power. It resulted in the novel about a man, William Mawolo, who arrives at a remote border town to investigate the disappearance of an influential paramount chief. The novel reads like a detective.

The Witness (2011): Onno, a seventy year old white man, meets and falls in love with a mysterious woman with a past rooted in the Liberian civil war. The novel explores the accuracy of memory and the impact of some of our decisions on our lives. 

The Black Napoleon (2015): Zaiwulo is thirteen when he leaves his home Haindi in the forest in present-day Liberia and travels with his father to Musadu, an old city in the savannah in present-day Guinea. He comes to study under Talahat, a great scholar and head of a prosperous and legendary family, the Haidarahs. This family traces its origin to Timbuktu. It is believed that the source of the family wealth and vast knowledge are found in an ancient manuscript that Talahat keeps in his study. What is that manuscript and how powerful is it? And why no one else seems to have read it but Talahat?  Zaiwulo feels that there's more to his presence amongst the Haidarahs than his father, who abandons him in Musadu, is willing to let on. Throughout his life he's plagued by that secret and its implications, by the silence on the part of his teacher and everyone else. Zaiwulo’s story unfolds in a period that was largely determined by the will of a single man, Samori Toure. Once a trader, Samori became a slave to save his mother and rose up to confront his slave master. Samori became the only leader in Africa who confronted the might of the French and the British in an attempt to hold onto his empire. His campaigns against these powers lasted nearly twenty years, affecting many parts of West Africa, including Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Mali.  The French admired Samori so much that they nicknamed him, The Black Napoleon. Zaiwulo comes in contact with this great man, who takes to him. Samori sees in the child traces of his mother's world. Her family hailed from the forest. To Zaiwulo, Samori embodies freedom, a man who elevates his followers some of who were once slaves to rulers in the greatest African empire in late 19th century. Zaiwulo follows Samori throughout his campaigns, fighting side by side with him, leading his armies, until the latter is captured and exiled by the French to present-day Gabon. Then Zaiwulo flees the French and returns to the forest, where he hopes to find clues to the secret that had led him to Musadu. What he finds has far reaching consequences on his life.

Interesting links:
Interview with the French magazine Africultures:
Short story Faces:
Novel in German, Geheimauftrag in Wologizi:
Novel in Spanish, Vinculos Secretos:



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