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Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth review – Nigeria unmasked | Fiction

Wole Soyinka gained the Nobel prize for literature in 1986, the primary black particular person to win the award. He’s maybe essentially the most versatile of African writers, equally at dwelling in all genres; his dramatic masterpieces, akin to Kongi’s Harvest and Death and the King’s Horseman, have been produced everywhere in the world. His poetry anthology, Poems of Black Africa (1975), stays essentially the most authoritative showcase of the writings of the primary technology of postcolonial African poets, from Agostinho Neto to Léopold Senghor to Dennis Brutus – a technology that’s quick dwindling, with Soyinka, now 87, one of many few left, nonetheless publishing books 12 months after 12 months. He makes the proper poster determine: imprisoned, exiled, perpetually searching for to reform his nation by turning out books vital of the corrupt rulers who, after the euphoria of independence from the colonial Europeans, have continued precisely the place they left off, utilizing the identical playbook of divide and rule.

His two novels, The Interpreters (1965) and Season of Anomy (1973), have been much less celebrated than his poetry and drama. However almost 50 years later, we’ve got Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest Individuals on Earth – written, Soyinka has stated, to stave off boredom in the course of the pandemic. The title nods to a type of mysterious web surveys that some years again ranked Nigeria No 1 on the planet on the “happiness index”. The irony of this permeates your entire e book.

Making the folks consider they’re glad is finished in a typical Nigerian vogue, with extravagant, televised award ceremonies. One other approach is to maintain the general public in thrall to faith – once more, a type of on-line surveys discovered Nigeria to be essentially the most spiritual nation on Earth. One of the vital energetic and enigmatic characters within the e book is Bishop Teribogo, whose family tree readers of Soyinka will simply hint again to Brother Jero of the Jero performs. Stylistically, the e book reprises The Interpreters. It’s largely plotless, held collectively by a sequence of incidents and characters, and their relationships and interactions with each other. The 4 lead characters have been educated in English universities, the place they first met, and returned to Nigeria with the dream of giving again to their nation. A lot of the e book’s battle is generated when this idealism comes up in opposition to societal indifference and materials pursuit.

We meet them in a second of transition. Duyole Pitan-Payne, a gifted electrical engineer, is on his approach to the UN as Nigeria’s consultant. Dr Kighare Menka, a surgeon who has simply gained a prestigious award, is pressured by circumstances to relocate to Lagos, the place he’s hosted by Pitan-Payne and his spouse. Prince Badetona is a artistic accountant lured into harmful circles of cash launderers. He results in jail, a subplot that echoes Soyinka’s personal experiences. And, lastly, there’s Teribogo, the self-reinventing preacher whose mission is to carry beneath one ecumenical umbrella, for his personal private achieve, the totally different religions of the nation: Islam, Christianity, conventional faiths and even Zoroastrianism.

Chronicles is written in what critics would describe as a “late type”: a bit prolix, usually dilatory and anecdotal. It is usually brave, and it does title names and level fingers. One of many delights is the benefit with which Soyinka switches between registers, from the elevated to the absurd, alongside along with his unapologetic use of “Nigerianisms” and Yoruba vernacular. There’s a lengthy monologue in pidgin English close to the top of the e book the place a steward, Godsown, offers a hilarious account of against the law he has witnessed. Maybe the author’s persona looms bigger than any character he portrays, however then, as most readers will inform you, that’s precisely what they need from Soyinka: the witty anecdotes, the digressions, even the well-known linguistic obscurity and bombast. There’s a stressed mental power right here that belies the age of the creator.

Chronicles is an efficient mannequin for what the political novel ought to be: fearless, disdaining formal constraints, sparing nobody, forsaking it a scorched earth suffering from the burnt figures of corrupt politicians and navy dictators and spiritual charlatans and social parasites, and even the plenty who, within the title of faith and tribe, are made instruments of the elite. In the long run, it’s a triumph of the novel as a kind: its skill to accommodate all kinds and approaches. How fortunate we’re that Soyinka has determined to provide that kind one other go.

Helon Habila’s newest novel is Travellers (Penguin). Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest Individuals on Earth by Wole Soyinka is printed by Bloomsbury (£20). To assist the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Supply prices might apply.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/oct/14/chronicles-from-the-land-of-the-happiest-people-on-earth-review-nigeria-unmasked | Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest Individuals on Earth evaluate – Nigeria unmasked | Fiction

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