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The Dark Child by Camara Laye

The Dark Child (1954)

by Camara Laye

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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No excuses or literary conceit in this review. This is more of a descriptive essay than a memoir, as the author tells us the events of his childhood but avoids offering any insight. The author also witholds description in many places giving as his excuse that he was too young and so did not understand, but one cannot help but notice that most of these instances concern the uses of traditional magic by his family and that, perhaps, he was avoiding shaming them, or himself - devout Mohammedans (his word) that they are.
I found it a frustrating read because it was so clear that the author could have shared more but instead we were privy to little that made the story a particular person's journey, or that an anthropologist could not have told us. ( )
  Darcy-Conroy | Sep 28, 2015 |
  OberlinSWAP | Jul 20, 2015 |
Originally published in 1954, and written in French, this is a memoir of the author’s childhood in the village of Koroussa, in French Guinea. Laye was a cherished child and his memories are sweet and poignant. Laye’s up-bringing was traditional, but he was sent away to school, and in the end, goes to school in France. This is bittersweet for Laye and his family; he and his father are well aware that a European education is the best hope of advancement, but this takes Laye away from his family and culture. Laye’s mother is just devastated and feels that she has lost her favorite son.

This is an easy book to read, as the style is simple and direct. One of the chief values of the book is the preservation of memories of a traditional African childhood. I recently read an essay by [[Chimamanda Adichie]] in which she mentions both [[Chinua Achebe]] and [[Camara Layes]]’s works as giving her a window into what the lives of her grandparents and great-grandparents were like; information that otherwise would have been lost to her due to colonialism, civil violence, and famine.

Throughout the book I was aware of how much is lost through colonialism. For example Laye writes:

“On the day of the harvest, the head of each family went at dawn to cut the first swath in his field. As soon as the first fruits had been gathered, the tom-tom signaled that the harvest had begun. This was the custom; I could not have said then why it was kept and why the signal was only given after the cutting of a swath from each field. I knew that it was customary and inquired no further. Yet, like all our customs, this one had its significance, which I could have discovered by asking the old villagers who retained this kind of knowledge deep in their hearts and memories. But I was not old enough nor curious enough to inquire, not did I become so until I was no longer in Africa.”

Laye discusses the role of women in his village. His mother was a strong character and notes that “the women’s role in our country is one of fundamental independence, of great inner pride. “ Laye’s father was clearly a gentle and loving man, and I don’t doubt that his own mother’s role in the family was one of considerable power. However, I suspect that there were layers of oppression fo women that Laye chooses to ignore, or was unaware of. The religion was Islamic, layered with animism. Polygamy and female genital mutilation were practiced. ( )
  banjo123 | Feb 10, 2014 |

According to some sources, this is not a memoir but a novel, or "literature," though the protagonist has the same name as the author. I will approach it as a fictionalized memoir; it is better as an autobiography than it is as a novel. This tale from 1954 fits in the "leaving for school" rather than the "leaving due to war" subgenre. For this reason, and because it stops short of Laye's experiences in France, it is more romantic and, despite the author's inner turmoil about leaving, less conflicted than many of its ilk. It tells an interesting enough story of growing to manhood, including initiation rites and adolescent circumcision that make it interesting to read in conjunction with Somé's Of Water and the Spirit: Ritual, Magic and Initiation in the Life of an African Shaman and Fadumo Korn's Born in the Big Rains: A Memoir of Somalia and Survival. However, the unanswered question lingering at the edges of this narrative involves the larger changes in the author's community (and his view of it) due to his maturation and coming of age and to the changes in African colonialism and self-governance. I would like to know how his understanding of his village changed even after a few years studying in the capitol, whether he in fact returned from France, as his mother wished, and if so, what he found. The author foreshadows this question less than halfway in: "But the world rolls on, the world changes, perhaps more rapidly than anyone else's.... and the proof of it is that my own totem--I too have my totem--is still unknown to me" (p. 75). This memoir would have been better had he illustrated this statement (and others like it) rather than leaving it as a loose end. ( )
  OshoOsho | Mar 30, 2013 |
Childhood of a young man that grew up in Guinea. ( )
  autumnesf | Dec 26, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Camara Layeprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jones, ErnestTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirkup, JamesTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 080901548X, Paperback)

The Dark Child is a distinct and graceful memoir of Camara Laye's youth in the village of Koroussa, French Guinea. Long regarded Africa's preeminent Francophone novelist, Laye (1928-80) herein marvels over his mother's supernatural powers, his father's distinction as the village goldsmith, and his own passage into manhood, which is marked by animistic beliefs and bloody rituals of primeval origin. Eventually, he must choose between this unique place and the academic success that lures him to distant cities. More than autobiography of one boy, this is the universal story of sacred traditions struggling against the encroachment of a modern world. A passionate and deeply affecting record, The Dark Child is a classic of African literature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:29 -0400)

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