BOOK REVIEW: The African Child

The African Child was published in 1953 and it is an autobiographical novel written by Camara Laye.

Book title: The African Child

Author: Camara Laye

REViewED by: Paul Swaga

The African Child was published in 1953 and it is an autobiographical novel written by Camara Laye. The novel centres on the Malinke tribe of French Guinea which is characterised by superstitions that influence the ways of the members of the community. The Malinke fuse their traditional culture with Islam and they are famous blacksmiths which is why Camara’s father owns a forge.

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Camara writes about his academic journey from the local Koranic and French elementary schools to Paris where he goes on scholarship to study mechanics. While in France, he feels lonely and alienated as a result of exposure to a different culture and he gets inspired to write about the Malinke culture, his childhood experiences, challenges and achievements.

As a young boy in Kouroussa, Camara is exposed to the mysteries of his tribe like the guiding spirit in form of a snake which guides his father to prophesy and make trinkets out of gold. The guiding spirit appears before the father at night and it reveals to him what is to happen the following day and whenever he smelts gold, it is always there to guide him. The mother also has magical powers given the fact that she follows twins and according to the Malinke culture, a child who follows twins is believed to have magical powers. She is capable of performing magic as a way of helping those who may be in trouble. For instance, she commands a horse to rise up when its owners tell her that it is unable to get up and walk. Her totem is a crocodile implying that crocodiles do not harm her and that is why she is able to draw water from River Niger at a time when there are many crocodiles ready to attack whoever comes into their vicinity.

Camara is strongly attached to his parents especially his mother. She is close to him and when Camara gets the opportunity to study from a technical school in Conakry, she objects to the idea till when the husband persuades her to let him go. The situation is even made worse when Camara secures a scholarship to study from Paris. The mother breaks down and it takes a lot of effort from the husband to calm her down. Camara also loves his grandmother dearly and that is why he is always eager to go to Tindican to visit her. While there, he enjoys village life and participates in the communal harvesting of rice.

The writer describes the Konden Diara which is a communal circumcision ritual used to initiate boys into men. It involves isolating the initiates in bushy areas for some time where the bigger boys pretend to be lions that roar at night. It is a very challenging experience but it helps to drive fear out of the boys as they prepare for adult responsibilities.

The text inspires us to love our cultures and pursue our goals consistently.

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