I did Not Choose to be Born in this Dark Society: Wole Soyinka

I did Not Choose to be Born in this Dark Society: Wole Soyinka

The Nigerian Nobel Prize winner presents a novel after 50 years without publishing a narrative. Alfaguara publishes ‘Chronicles from the country of the happiest people on Earth’


This man, Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, Wole Soyinka, from the Yoruba tribe, is 87 years old and was the first black African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. It happened in 1986. By then he had written several sulfurous plays, numerous essays, and a handful of poems set on any surface under the agony offered by an isolation cell in the city of Lagos. He studied at the University of Leeds (Great Britain). He has lived for decades one half of the year in Abeokuta (his hometown) and the other in Los Angeles (USA). 


Get to know the best scenes in Europe (where it has premiered) and the worst prison in Nigeria. They have tried to hasten his death a few times by loudly denouncing the tyranny and corruption of various families of African satraps. He has had to escape from his home several times, one of them as a pack on a motorcycle for 10 hours on terrible roads. And here it continues.


When I wasn’t expecting it, Soyinka started writing novels again. She hadn’t published a narrative for half a century. In two years, between Senegal, Ghana, and his country he wrote Chronicles from the country of the happiest people on Earth(Alfaguara), a detective story where he puts together an atlas of current Nigeria through a lively team of characters ranging from the street to the university, from corruption to serious politics, from preachers’ unleashed religion to organ trafficking … Soyinka’s in these pages (619) is a feigned territory, but feverishly real. And he tells it with an almost festive irony, with a satire of a certain bitterness.


– 50 years for this novel, were you waiting for it?

– No, no, it appeared. It has been two years of writing. I knew I was going to write fiction, but I needed to get away from the environment that drove all the content. 


A friend lent me his house in a town near Dakar and there I isolated myself for about 8 days. That was where I started the story. There was a pause and a little later the former president of Ghana offered me another house there for my literary seclusion. Then came the confinement, everything stopped and I found in my house Abeokuta, in the middle of the forest, surrounded by the characters of Chronicles … . And I finished this story.


– Had you closed your narrative work?

– Yes. With the previous novel, and that makes too much. What I continued to write for decades are theater, poetry, and essays. The characters in the novels play tricks on you. I feel more comfortable in the theater, where I can better control what happens.

– The work coincides with the 60th anniversary of Nigerian independence. How much is symbolic?

– A lot, but I also consciously made her coincide. As I was writing I realized that one of the themes of the book, as part of Nigerian tradition, is a celebration. Celebrating is one of the foundations of African culture. And since we were not far from that anniversary, I made this novel a birthday present for my country.


Wole Soyinka speaks under a cloud of hair that grows upward like an atomic mushroom. He wears a trumpeter’s vest from some slum in New Orleans. Light blue shirt with mandarin collar. Harpooner Knob. It has something of a rebellious baobab, slow tree manners that make its disappointment sound with a hammer of contrary ideas.


This book is a map of Nigeria today, with all the past looming. And it is possible to understand something he said recently about Nigeria: he had derailed. In what sense? “In the deepest sense. My country has left the human tracks. The values ​​with which I grew up, everything that shaped me as what I am, has disintegrated. 


I knew a country of joy, of goodness, of community philosophy … non-existent now. ” What happened? “The oil boom, easy money, and the siege of small farmers and villages … All to get immediate wealth. That brought corruption and then there was an irruption of religious fanaticism destroying the educational system and infrastructure. And a terrible witch hunt against those who were not part of the extremes “


He has circled the planet several times risking opinions to denounce the farce of the West against Africa. He is an activist, although above all he is a writer who at the age of 12, in his town, saw his father write without rest and that fascinated him. He never tires of moving his jaws telling his story, that of his people. 


Soyinka stays on the couch during the interview with the cordial reluctance of someone who has spent too many years trying to put an end to so much nonsense and telling it from the writing loudspeaker. His mythical ideology was made around a fire with logs where the old people of the place sang stories of the Yoruba culture. That clay first found its last when he jumped to the University of Leeds, where he discovered Western theater, to which he grafted the extraordinary shoots of the African imaginary. That’s where it all started.


In 2016, he renounced his residence card in the US, when the first reprisals of Donald Trump.

However, he writes with more forcefulness than anger: “I did not choose to be born in this dark society but I have found myself in it, so I have to accept it and know how to live with it, try to take advantage of it. It is a challenge,” he says. 


Attentive to everything that happens around him and able to synthesize in 40 minutes the recent history of Nigeria with disarming clairvoyance, he only launches a complaint when the conversation stretches to the reality of so many millions of women and men who embody what it calls the migration crisis: “Mine is a nation that accumulates extraordinary talent, but that seems to matter less and less. We live in a very xenophobic moment, with more and more suspicions against the other. We are losing entire generations for nothing.


Among the millions of exiled women and men come the next African thinkers, the scientists, the poets of tomorrow, not just labor. It’s very frustrating”.

Some of those young people that Soyinka believes in belong to the new generation of African writers (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo, Aminatta Forna, Kopano Matlwa …). In them, he learns. And with them he agrees in a rereading of colonialism: “The writers who are recounting Africa, they and they, are more concerned about today’s internal colonialism. 


The external one has already been identified as an enemy and they are alert. In this sense, the threat is the growing settlement of China throughout Africa and the cultural aggression that the continent suffers. But when I speak of a bigger problem, internal colonialism, I mean the one that is being exercised by military dictatorships at the moment. And that of territorial controls where there should not be that control. That is what also slows down our land. “


But if Soyinka had to stay somewhere in her writing for as long as she has left, she is clear that it would be in poetry. “I get it from anywhere. It connects me with my youth, it connects me with a world that is gone. And it allows me to better understand where I am.”

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