How did I arrive at reading this book? Now, I have been passing by several bookstores and seeing this small book on the shelves. I often would pick it up and flip through the pages only to tell myself that, this is for children. Now, why did I say so? In the bookstore, I would read the first paragraph and language looked to me too simple and… (Please this story could be deceptive. There is a deeper meaning hidden therein. So if you have come across it in the bookstores, please buy it). Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has named it as part of his top ten favorite books of all time. B.B.C has said of it: ‘The first writer of genius to come out of Africa.’ At the same time, this book is being studied in so many schools particularly at the University of Ghana under the course name ‘Masterpieces of African Literature.’ So what do I also say about it… (Read on)
This story is largely autobiographical and tells the story of Camara Laye’s childhood experiences in an African tribe. In the story, the writer gives deeper insights into the cultures of the society and how things play out around the child, Laye.
The bigger question I asked myself after reading it is that, ‘Who is the colonial man as presented in the story?’ I will have to break down this question for better understanding.
Camara Laye introduces us two cultures in the novel. These are the culture of his own people of which I call the African culture and then the second being the culture of the Western civilization. The writer makes a clear comparism between these two cultures by presenting two African settings, thus Kouroussa being the city where elements of the western culture are present and Tindican representing a typical African culture.
Aside these two settings, the writer talks about two groups of characters: The colonial man and the ordinary African man. But the question the reader ought to ask is that who is the colonial man? Well, I will help out here. The colonial man is simply an African man who is under the influence of the culture of western civilization. And so Laye who is the child in the story can simply be said to be a colonial man. Why? The training he had at home, school and the society at large had an inflow of western cultures. It would therefore be interesting to read this book, with a deeper insight, to find out how Laye became largely influenced?
At the beginning of the book, there is a short poem or so which I think is reflective of the actual story. The reader ought not to escape this poem. The poem is simply a yearn or a call out to the writer’s mother and here is the first few lines:
‘Black woman, woman of Africa, O my Mother, I am thinking of you…’
This is a powerful narrative – very simple in language but carrying deeper thoughts. I highly recommend this.
Not that this book was first published in English under the title ‘The Dark Child’ in 1955.