Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka’s first novel since 1973


One such conversation takes place in the middle of the book between the two main characters – Duyol Pitton-Payne, an engineer and bon vivant, and a surgeon named Kighare Menaka – whose “ancient” friendship is the most moving story in the novel. As young students in England, he and two other Nigerians formed the “Gong of Four”, a kind of tongue-in-cheek secret society complete with code language and a common dream: Nigeria. country to return and try to give something back – or, in their own words, “go back and make a difference!” It was an abstract mission, but it took on a more concrete form Maneka’s project is to build a hospital in her small, underprivileged hometown. Decades later, one member of the group has disappeared without a trace, another is in prison for money laundering, and Duyol is leaving the country for New York as a UN representative.

As far as Dr. As for Maneka, he has become a reluctant local figure: at a time when terrorism is ravaging the country, Boko Haram is killing hundreds of civilians every month, he has specialized in dissection, suicide bombings. Worked on the victims, and even awarded civilian honors for their devotion to those survivors and their wounded bodies. After the most recent atrocity – the killing of an unarmed officer by an angry mob – has been reported in the media, Maneka comments how lucky her friend Duyole is not to see these images in America anymore. Although “they have their counterparts,” Maneka says. “Ask the black population.” Duyol disagrees: “Not so. Sometimes, yes, the Rodney King scenario pops up. Or the fascist spree of ‘I can’t breathe.’ America is a product of slave culture, as a byproduct of racist brutality. Prosperity. It’s different. It, let me admit, reaches… a word I’d like to avoid but can’t – soul. It challenges the collective notion of soul. Something’s broken. Beyond race. External Color or history. Something’s torn. Can’t be put back together.”

something is broken: This fracture is where subluxation occurs. On one side are Duyol and Maneka, civilized humans trying to expose a criminal enterprise in a corrupt society. On the other hand are the powers that are mainly represented by two men: Papa Davina and Godfrey Danfer. The first is a self-made religious leader who, after many Picaresque Mole-Flanders-like failures, realizes that “he had only one object – spirituality.” The second is the least interesting of Soyinka’s characters: a liar and a hypocrite, ambitious but shorter than the original, a satire of political power that has gone awry. Both are troublesome individuals, and their potential involvement in the body parts trade never seems to surface. But they are, together, the object of constant ridicule. When Papa Davina creates a site for prophecy, he calls it “the prophet”; And Sir Godi is the leader of the “People on the Move Party”, but he never accepts the fact that the abbreviation is POMP.

I mean this: I understand well why Soyinka would have chosen satire as the medium through which to explore the crossroads between corruption, religious bigotry, endemic resentment and the legacy of colonial division. Humor is a time-tested defense mechanism. But for all its satirical undertones, for all its puns and plays on names, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth” is a pessimistic novel, the work of a man with no illusions, in complete irony. , Suggested by Title. Perhaps this explains why the best section of the book often has a casual connection with the peppy, fictional main plot: a Nigerian man has died on Austrian soil, leading to a confrontation between several members of his family. Has become what he wants to be. Buried where he died, and Dr Maneka, who wants to bring the body back to Nigeria. During these chapters the novel appears to change in tone and tempo: it becomes serious, affecting, strangely intimate. what happened?

It is here that longtime readers of Soyinka will recall the aforementioned memoir, “You Must Set Fourth at Dawn”, whose most provocative pages are his friendship with Femi Johnson, a Nigerian man killed in Frankfurt, and Soyinka’s efforts to get his body back. are dedicated to. Against the wishes of the family. “History” virtually reproduces those real events; In them you hear the author’s voice strictly free of the demands of the genre and the complex logic he has formulated. When an undertaker feels closer to the Doctor because “they both work on the same material,” you hear human intellectual Wole Soyinka reflecting on mortality. The fragility, the vulnerability of the human body: yes, you say, this is what the novel was always about.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez most recently authored “Songs for the Flames”.

History from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth
by Wole Soyinka
444 pp. Pantheon Books. $28.



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