Praise for Wole Soyinka
“What if V. S. Naipaul were a happy man? What if V. S. Pritchett had loved his parents? What if Vladimir Nabokov had grown up in a small town in western Nigeria and decided that politics were not unworthy of him? I do not take or drop these names in vain. Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist, playwright, critic, and professor of comparative literature, belongs in their company.”
–John Leonard, The New York Times
“[Soyinka is] a master of language, and [is committed] as a dramatist and writer of poetry and prose to problems of general and deep significance for man.”
–Lars Gyllensten, from his presentation speech awarding Wole Soyinka the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1986
“A brilliant imagist who uses poetry and drama to convey his inquisitiveness, frustration, and sense of wonder.”
“If the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka.”
–Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New York Times
This memoir covers Soyinka's life from young manhood to the present. It is a substantial account, linear but not crushingly so, and lightened by a certain amount of thematic skipping around. You Must Set Forth at Dawn is a political memoir, and should probably have been subtitled that way. There is necessarily more to learn about the political Soyinka than about the man of letters, if only because so much of his political activity was undertaken discreetly or secretly, and he is only now — with the re-establishment of civilian (if increasingly undemocratic) rule under Olusegun Obasanjo — free to recount his history more fully.
The New York Times
This is not always an easy book to read. A chronology of key dates helps the casual reader sort through the various coups and conflicts that have defined Nigeria's four-plus decades of independence, but the memoir jumps back and forth between dates and events, sometimes confusingly. Still, as a chronicle of modern Africa and its troubles from the continent's foremost literary giant, You Must Set Forth at Dawn triumphs.
The Washington Post
In this engrossing follow-up to his acclaimed childhood memoir, Ake, the Nigerian poet, playwright and Nobel laureate demonstrates what it means to be a public intellectual. Soyinka revisits a tumultuous life of writing and political activism, from his student days in Britain through his struggles, sometimes from prison or exile, against a succession of Nigerian dictatorships. Soyinka may be on a first-name basis with almost every major Nigerian figure and he's sometimes involved in high-level intrigues; his chronicle of political turmoil is very personal, full of sharply drawn sketches of comrades and foes, and cantankerous rejoinders to critics. His novelistic eyewitness accounts of repression and upheaval widen out from time to time to survey the humiliation and corruption of Nigerian society under military rule. Soyinka also includes recollections of friends and family, of sojourns abroad with W.H. Auden and other literati and of stage triumphs and fiascoes. His lyrical evocations of African landscapes, the urban nightmare of Lagos, the horrors of British cuisine and the longing a dusty fugitive feels for a cold beer will entertain and educate readers. By turns panoramic and intimate, ruminative and politically resolute, Soyinka's memoir is a dense but intriguing conversation between a writer and his times. (Apr. 18) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Nigerian Nobel laureate Soyinka here continues his story that began in Ake: The Years of Childhood (1982). A political activist, as well as a poet and playwright (Climate of Fear), Soyinka reflects on his adult life in turbulent postcolonial Nigeria. Since that country gained independence from Great Britain in 1960, a series of governments has kept Nigeria dangerous and unstable. Soyinka's untiring efforts to bring democracy and freedom to his homeland resulted in his arrest in 1967, when he was accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels and imprisoned for two years, along with several periods of exile. While Nigerian politics dominates the book, Soyinka shares some amusing anecdotes, too, such as his problem with the climate in Boston, which he refers to as the "Arctic wastes." He also discusses the dual meaning of the Nobel prize, which he won in 1986: he is honored to be chosen (he was the first African to win the prize) yet is aware of the price to be paid in loss of privacy and obligations to the public. Soyinka's lyrical accounts of Africa's natural beauty, his eyewitness chronicle of political intrigue, and his forceful voice for human rights and democracy make this an important book for our time. Strongly recommended for all collections.-Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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.