Review: Wole Soyinka’s novel The happiest people in the world. – Culture

It is possible that Wole Soyinka is now telling the tragedies of his life again as a farce. That this is all a satire of a Nigerian present, selfish elites, the profiteering of spiritual jokes, the fanaticism of their clients, the stubbornness of numerous personalities distributing fictional prizes to each other, and the scheme in the back rooms: a magazine grotesque of corruption, vanity and abuse of power. But then it comes to a serious deadly outburst of anger.

One might hope so. His political biography and ability to suffer have made Soyinka at least as legendary as his plays, poems, essays and some of his novels. Almost half a century has passed between the young man, “The Happiest People in the World” and the latest, “Age of Lawlessness” from 1973, if his autobiographical books are not counted. So, in fact a sensation, this late epic work of an 87-year-old writer, who in 1986 was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature and before and after he fought with perseverance and self-sacrifice for democracy in Nigeria, was found in prison. several times and in exile. But even in the US, where he taught at various universities for many years, he made public his anger after Trump’s election, cut the green card and returned to Africa.

“Soyinka’s silent masculinity seems foreign and intriguing to me”

Soyinka was ousted from the throne of Nigeria’s most famous writer, also because of his success in the American book market, most recently in 2013, when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel “Americanah” was published and her speech at TED ” “We all have to be feminists.” appeared as a sample in a Beyoncé song. The fact that feminism sometimes consists of the proper veneration of great elders, can be seen in the declaration of love, Adichie 2021 to the British. Times wrote in Soyinka. Over the eighties, he is an impressive figure, it is said, with “soft skin, subtle energy, a sense of dramatic gestures and a rich voice that is aware of his sound”. However, his style sometimes acts as a protective shield to keep feelings away: “Soyinka’s silent masculinity seems strange and fascinating to me.”

Silent would not be the term that would come to mind given the tediously presented scenarios and surrounding characterizations of Soyinka’s novel. An infinite form that has already been noticed by readers of his political CV “It set out at early dawn” of 2006. Strangely enough, Adichie’s thesis still stands, because so many chapters of “The happiest people in the world “look like large exhibitions, extremely elaborate on stories that do not appear.

Wole Soyinka was born in 1934 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. In 1986 he was the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.


At the moment when, according to a common dramaturgy, conflicts should become painful, Soyinka often changes the subject. It’s the comic saint of a sectarian megacity, no, it’s about the PR-nurtured self-discovery of a relatively young nation, no, it’s the leadership style of fictional Prime Minister Godfrey Danfere, known as Sir Goodie, which consists of all from always waiting for someone for an elite who enjoys the privileges inherited from former colonial masters, no, it’s a thriller about murders and organ trafficking.

Soyinka has said in interviews that the corona pandemic made it possible for him to write a novel again so late in life, that he had time. The timing regime of blockages can also make his dramaturgy credible: whenever you think you know what is going on, conditions change. Everything is crawling, even though it is a world event. In any case, this novel is not easy to read. Especially for an international audience that lacks the knowledge to decipher allusions to Nigerian politics and history. Soyinka’s novel also fails to meet the need for ongoing debate in the North Global to make clear tasks in the postcolonial struggle to spread the blame. This is probably why this one-book event did not hit all the book clubs and leaderboards, even though it came out in English in the fall.

Hardly anyone remembers the meaning of independence

In the intricate spaces of this novel, there is also this concentrated, heated moment, in which one of the two main characters, surgeon Kighare Menka, finally goes crazy after working in his colonial-style gentlemen’s club. During the day he gathered together the mostly female victims of a bomb attack on a vegetable market in the town of Jos. Another guest reads the newspaper report on a murder committed by 13 men against a housewife and the occasional indifference of his peers, especially to domestic violence against women and little girls, the marks and scars of which the doctor sees every day, lets him forget about irony. behaviors preserved in this place: “All of us here,” he said, “are speaking our hearts here in this palace of self-deception. I am talking about this!” At this point even the narrative voice loses its ironic distance.

A senseless physical violence that pervades the daily life of the country, said here, interrupts the narrative game with displacement and distraction. Or at least makes it to the mud. The political message of the novel arises from the contrast: as bitterly serious as it is at its core, Soyinka enjoys the signs and symbols that multiply wildly around him as a motif and source of fist lines.

The novel’s potents, for example, constantly change names and fight pompous epithets like “servant of the nation” or “guardian of the people.” They replace the celebration of Nigeria’s independence from the British, won in 1960, with fabricated events. Like the “People’s Choice Festival”, which has been enriched with so many artificial rituals that it “included the whole year, extending from time to time to the following year and thus catching up with the new beginning with its festivals of different “, while, as e.g. Soyinka adds: “Hardly anyone remembered what independence was about.” “Branding” plays a big role, for example the rededication of the violent place to that of “the happiest people in the world”.

Wole Soyinka: "The happiest people in the world": Wole Soyinka: The happiest people in the world.  Novel.  Translated from English by Inge Uffelmann.  Bekimi, Munich 2022. 656 pages, 24 euros.

Wole Soyinka: The happiest people in the world. Novel. Translated from English by Inge Uffelmann. Bekimi, Munich 2022. 656 pages, 24 euros.

Pope Davina, the character of the cunning preacher, goes on a development journey, to a European university, through various Nigerian provinces, “a detention center for illegal immigrants in Newark, New Jersey”, Liberia, Gambia, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ghana, where he experienced its epiphany, again in Nigeria. The chapter is read as a long, very informative joke about the floating marker “Africa”. In part, the novel recalls the level of humor that a postmodernist reading Gilles Deleuze copied from the greats of absurd literature, Lewis Carroll or Samuel Beckett.

In the end, Soyinka joins the episodes together into one plot and then you should start reading from the beginning to find out where you have been missing the story tracks in the bunch of characters. When surgeon Kighare Menka began to risk retiring to a criminal body parts trade traded for ritual purposes across the country. He seeks protection and help from his college friend, engineer Duyole Pitan-Payne, and his family. However, he is ready to leave because he has been appointed to the United Nations as an energy specialist. A circumstance that the government, in Sir Goodie’s vain garb, accompanies with a threatening need for control.

The clique of two elderly friends initially consisted of four men, one of whom loses his soul under torture and the fourth remains missing. So the question is whether the friends will come back together, if they will still achieve the goal of their early years to give something to their country, to shape it. And whether they will solve the criminal case of the business of fragmented people.

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