Almost fifty years separate Camara Laye's L'enfant noir and Ahmadou Kourouma's Allah n'est pas obligé. The novels have in common the depiction of West African boys who negotiate the imposition of the French language on their native Malinké language and culture. Yet their formative experiences are strikingly different: Laye cautiously accepts a compromise by going to French schools while Kourouma's protagonist and narrator, Birahima, quickly becomes an orphaned child-soldier who abandons all formal schooling. Brief comparison of Laye and Birahima allows us to cast into sharp relief the latter's violent childhood. Specifically, this article explores Kourouma's deformation of the African bildungsroman in French in order to consider a genre of writing and its relationship to the place of francophonie in contemporary West Africa. It examines the roles of language(s) and education not only as central themes of an African tragedy but also as the dramatic rhetoric of Kourouma's novel.