Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Sacred River
A Novel

By Syl Cheney-Coker

Sacred River is a novel of epic proportions powered by a microscopic gaze and magisterial sweep. Told with pain and passion, withering wit and satiric humor, this is a tale of these and other times: thronged, sensuous, cerebral, and visionary in the most unpredictable ways. There is magic in the telling, a magic wrought from the myths and legends of the African world, and facts which belie the strangest fiction. Sacred River reads like a magnificent poem with multiple chapters. A truly virtuoso achievement.”

Niyi Osundare, award-winning poet and distinguished professor of English, University of New Orleans

“The novel fits easily into the post-independence disillusionment novel canon along with Achebe’s A Man of the People, Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow.”

African Studies Quarterly

“Syl Cheney-Coker’s beautifully written book explores life in a fictional West African country in all its pain, spirituality, and glory. The poetic lilt of the sentences combined with intertwining stories of suffering, hope, and historical allusions make for a breathtaking and thought-provoking read.”

World Literature Today

“The promise and problems of postcolonial Africa mix with a rich tradition of mythology and magic in this sequel to The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar (1990)…. Readers of this work, part of the publisher’s Modern African Writing series, will be reminded of writers such as Gabriel García Márquez and Salman Rushdie.”


The reincarnation of a legendary nineteenth-century Caribbean emperor as a contemporary African leader is at the heart of this novel. Sacred River deals with the extraordinary lives, hopes, powerful myths, stories, and tragedies of the people of a modern West African nation. It is also the compelling love story of an idealistic philosophy professor and an ex-courtesan of incomparable beauty. Two hundred years after his death, the great Haitian emperor Henri Christophe miraculously appears in a dream to Tankor Satani, president of the fictional West African country of Kissi, with instructions for Tankor to continue Henri Christophe’s rule, which had been interrupted by “that damned Napoleon.”

Ambitious in scope, Sacred River is a diaspora-inspired novel, in which Cheney-Coker has tackled the major themes of politics, social strife, crime and punishment, and human frailty and redemption in Malagueta, the fictional, magical town and its surroundings first created by the author in The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, for which he was awarded the coveted Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Sacred River is equally about love and politics, and marks the return to fiction of one of Africa’s major writers.

Syl Cheney-Coker was born in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and is the author of five volumes of poetry, a collection of essays, and the novel The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Africa) and was named one of the “20th century’s 100 best Africa books.”   More info →


Excerpt: Prologue and Chapters 1–3


Order a print copy

Paperback · $20.76 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $25.95 · Save 20% ($20.76)

Hardcover · $28 ·
Add to Cart

Retail price: $35.00 · Save 20% ($28)

Buy from a local bookstore


US and Canada only

Buy an eBook

Amazon Kindle Store Barnes & Noble NOOK Google Play iBooks Store

Availability and price vary according to vendor.

Cover of Sacred River

Share    Facebook icon  Email icon


Desk Copy Examination Copy Review Copy

Permission to reprint
Permission to photocopy or include in a course pack via Copyright Clearance Center




Retail price: $25.95, S.
Release date: December 2014
456 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: North America

Retail price: $35.00, S.
Release date: March 2013
456 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights: North America

Release date: March 2013
456 pages
Rights: North America

Additional Praise for Sacred River

“This innovative epic by Sierra Leone native Cheney-Coker (The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar) is firmly set in West Africa and features magical realism grounded in native myth…. Cheney-Coker’s sweeping tale climaxes with the “sacred river,” the spiritual center of the story, offering Yeama its healing and rejuvenating powers.”

Publishers Weekly

“For more than [twenty] years we have waited for a rightful descendent of Syl Cheney-Coker’s magical and prizewinning novel The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar to come into our hands, and now we have it. In Sacred River, Cheney-Coker has surpassed himself, giving us a novel so large in scope and beautiful in its telling that we hate to have it end. It’s a work that from its prologue to its final breath reminds us that myth, legend, and storytelling are what Africa—old and new—is made of. This book is a triumph.”

Richard Wiley, award-winning author and Director of Creative Writing, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Related Titles

Cover of 'Thirteen Cents'

Thirteen Cents
A Novel
By K. Sello Duiker
· Introduction by Shaun Viljoen

debut fiction; South African literature; street kids; child prostitution; homosexuality; Cape Town; drug use; gritty novel; dark themes; African Literature; bildungsroman;

Fiction · Literary Collections | African · South Africa · African Literature

Cover of 'Dog Eat Dog'

Dog Eat Dog
A Novel
By Niq Mhlongo

Dog Eat Dog is a remarkable record of being young in a nation undergoing tremendous turmoil, and provides a glimpse into South Africa’s pivotal kwaito (South African hip-hop) generation and life in Soweto. Set in 1994, just as South Africa is making its postapartheid transition, Dog Eat Dog captures the hopes—and crushing disappointments—that characterize such moments in a nation’s history.Raucous

Fiction · Literary Collections | African · African Literature

Cover of 'On Black Sisters Street'

On Black Sisters Street
A Novel
By Chika Unigwe

On Black Sisters Street tells the haunting story of four very different women who have left their African homeland for the riches of Europe—and who are thrown together by bad luck and big dreams into a sisterhood that will change their lives. Each night, Sisi, Ama, Efe, and Joyce stand in the windows of Antwerp’s red-light district, promising to make men’s desires come true—if only for half an hour.

Fiction · Literary Collections | African · African Literature

Cover of 'The Krio of West Africa'

The Krio of West Africa
Islam, Culture, Creolization, and Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century
By Gibril R. Cole

Sierra Leone’s unique history, especially in the development and consolidation of British colonialism in West Africa, has made it an important site of historical investigation since the 1950s. Much of the scholarship produced in subsequent decades has focused on the “Krio,” descendants of freed slaves from the West Indies, North America, England, and other areas of West Africa, who settled Freetown, beginning in the late eighteenth century.

African History · History of Islam · Slavery and Slave Trade · Colonialism and Decolonization · African Studies · Atlantic Studies · Krio