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A Memoir

by Wole Soyinka

Pub Date: April 18th, 2006
ISBN: 0-375-50365-X
Publisher: Random House

Picking up where Ake (1982) leaves off, Nigerian Nobel laureate Soyinka (Climate of Fear, 2005, etc.) brings his dossier up to the present.

This latest volume is haunted by the hardships of exile and intimations of mortality. Soyinka has known the first since before 1960, the year of Nigeria’s independence, when he returned from studying abroad. “I was not pessimistic about the future but extremely cautious, having come into contact with the first-generation leaders in my student days in England,” he writes—sagely, for those leaders would become a string of dictators, and he would find himself in their prisons not long afterward. Even in Nigeria, he recalls, Soyinka was a wanderer: “The road and I . . . became partners in the quest for an extended self-discovery.” As it did his cousin Fela Kuti, the road took Soyinka all over the world, sometimes to fine and desirable places such as Jamaica, which becomes a transoceanic reflection of the mother country, and sometimes to less hospitable climes such as Harvard (“No one had informed me that my sentence of exile would be served in the Arctic wastes”). The road also brought Soyinka fame and, with the attainment of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1986, a certain fortune as well. About that honor Soyinka is clearly of two minds; as he writes, somewhat elliptically, “the Nobel appears to be a bug whose bite is craved, sometimes without a sense of discrimination or inhibition,” while elsewhere he grumbles that “the moment the next beauty queen [is] crowned had better be recognized as my hour of liberation.” The burden of the Swedish medal aside, though, Soyinka attends to other weighty matters, including the seemingly constant passing of friends, the continuing crisis of Africa and his homecoming to one new dictator after another.

Humane, sensible and impeccably written; a fitting summation of a life interestingly lived, and one hopes with more reflections to come.