A debut memoir traces a professor’s intricate journey from Nigeria to the United States.
Soremekun grew up in a Nigeria still under British rule during World War II. As a child, he observed both modern colonialism and the long-lasting traditions of the native population. His larger-than-life grandfather, who lived with several wives on a compound, was ruled by superstition even as the family became Methodists. From there, the author’s father moved the family to Lagos, which, for Soremekun, was like “a giant theater” of activity and excitement. It was also in Lagos that he proved his worth as a student, earning outstanding marks in the British school system and opening the door to a university. But movies, issues of Reader’s Digest, and various pen pals would instill a deep fascination for the United States—an interest so intense it earned him the nickname “American boy.” Soremekun eventually chose to study history at a college in Kansas, making the long trip by boat, and then completed a master’s and Ph.D. in history, concentrating on African studies, at Northwestern University. Throughout the rest of his adult life, the author and his wife, Elizabeth, would go back and forth between California and Africa. He would work as a church janitor, a laborer, and a scholar of Angolan missionaries, eventually founding a school benefiting the next African generation. As a historian, Soremekun delves into the context of his life events without generalizing or ever oversimplifying. He examines how, even as a child in Lagos, he was able to see the ways that colonial rulers used tribalism to sow discord among locals, giving police powers to certain groups and not to others. He writes with care about the simultaneous liberation of Africa and the civil rights movement in the United States in the early 1960s, discussing the “alienation” of continental Africans from African-Americans. The author has perhaps packed too much into one work, leaving some of these subjects underdeveloped to continue relating the various incidents of his long life. Still, this remains a captivating story.
A rich and detailed account about Africa, America, and the importance of history.