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

1 year ago 216

Wole Soyinka won the Nobel prize for lit successful 1986, the archetypal achromatic idiosyncratic to triumph the award. He is possibly the astir versatile of African writers, arsenic astatine location successful each genres; his melodramatic masterpieces, specified arsenic Kongi’s Harvest and Death and the King’s Horseman, person been produced each implicit the world. His poesy anthology, Poems of Black Africa (1975), remains the astir authoritative showcase of the writings of the archetypal procreation of postcolonial African poets, from Agostinho Neto to Léopold Senghor to Dennis Brutus – a procreation that is accelerated dwindling, with Soyinka, present 87, 1 of the fewer left, inactive publishing books twelvemonth aft year. He makes the cleanable poster figure: imprisoned, exiled, perpetually seeking to betterment his state by turning retired books captious of the corrupt rulers who, aft the euphoria of independency from the assemblage Europeans, person continued precisely wherever they near off, utilizing the aforesaid playbook of disagreement and rule.

His 2 novels, The Interpreters (1965) and Season of Anomy (1973), were little celebrated than his poesy and drama. But astir 50 years later, we person Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People connected Earth – written, Soyinka has said, to stave disconnected boredom during the pandemic. The rubric nods to 1 of those mysterious net surveys that immoderate years backmost ranked Nigeria No 1 successful the satellite connected the “happiness index”. The irony of this permeates the full book.

Making the radical judge they are blessed is done successful a emblematic Nigerian fashion, with extravagant, televised grant ceremonies. Another mode is to support the nationalist successful thrall to religion – again, 1 of those online surveys recovered Nigeria to beryllium the astir spiritual state connected Earth. One of the astir energetic and enigmatic characters successful the publication is Bishop Teribogo, whose genealogy readers of Soyinka volition easy hint backmost to Brother Jero of the Jero plays. Stylistically, the publication reprises The Interpreters. It is mostly plotless, held unneurotic by a bid of incidents and characters, and their relationships and interactions with 1 another. The 4 pb characters were educated successful English universities, wherever they archetypal met, and returned to Nigeria with the imagination of giving backmost to their country. Most of the book’s struggle is generated erstwhile this idealism comes up against societal indifference and worldly pursuit.

We conscionable them successful a infinitesimal of transition. Duyole Pitan-Payne, a talented electrical engineer, is connected his mode to the UN arsenic Nigeria’s representative. Dr Kighare Menka, a surgeon who has conscionable won a prestigious award, is forced by circumstances to relocate to Lagos, wherever helium is hosted by Pitan-Payne and his wife. Prince Badetona is simply a originative accountant lured into unsafe circles of wealth launderers. He ends up successful prison, a subplot that echoes Soyinka’s ain experiences. And, finally, determination is Teribogo, the self-reinventing preacher whose ngo is to bring nether 1 ecumenical umbrella, for his ain idiosyncratic gain, the antithetic religions of the country: Islam, Christianity, accepted faiths and adjacent Zoroastrianism.

Chronicles is written successful what critics would picture arsenic a “late style”: a spot prolix, often dilatory and anecdotal. It is besides courageous, and it does sanction names and constituent fingers. One of the delights is the easiness with which Soyinka switches betwixt registers, from the elevated to the absurd, on with his unapologetic usage of “Nigerianisms” and Yoruba vernacular. There is simply a agelong monologue successful pidgin English adjacent the extremity of the publication wherever a steward, Godsown, gives a hilarious relationship of a transgression helium has witnessed. Perhaps the writer’s property looms larger than immoderate quality helium portrays, but then, arsenic astir readers volition archer you, that is precisely what they privation from Soyinka: the witty anecdotes, the digressions, adjacent the celebrated linguistic obscurity and bombast. There is simply a restless intelligence vigor present that belies the property of the author.

Chronicles is simply a bully exemplary for what the governmental caller should be: fearless, disdaining ceremonial constraints, sparing nary one, leaving down it a scorched world littered with the burnt figures of corrupt politicians and subject dictators and spiritual charlatans and societal parasites, and adjacent the masses who, successful the sanction of religion and tribe, are made tools of the elite. In the end, it is simply a triumph of the caller arsenic a form: its quality to accommodate each styles and approaches. How fortunate we are that Soyinka has decided to springiness that signifier different go.