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Ìsarà : A voyage around essay by Wole…
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Ìsarà : A voyage around "essay" (1990)

by Wole Soyinka

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This could well be classed as one of those books with a wilfully misleading title - unless you happen to remember from reading Aké that Soyinka's father was known by the nickname "Essay". It's actually an imaginative memoir about his father's life as a young headmaster in the colonial Nigeria of the thirties and forties, reconstructed from various documents that Soyinka found in a tin box after his father's death (the title is an allusion to John Mortimer's play about his own father, of course).

I didn't plan it that way, but it turned out to be very interesting to read it soon after The Interpreters, because there are a lot of parallels between the two - both focus on a group of clever, ambitious young professionals keen to better themselves and their country, but of course they are set a generation apart, one during the colonial period, the other soon after independence. The young men are all alumni of St Simeon's Training College, Ilesa (they call themselves the "Ex-Ilés", although the - British - college principal prefers the term "Simians").

The author's father - who is bafflingly never called "Essay" here, but appears as Akinyode Soditan or Yode - loyally teaches a curriculum full of pro-imperial propaganda, but isn't taken in by it himself, and doesn't really expect his students to be. Together with the other Ex-Ilés, he believes in a future in which educated Nigerians will take advantage of the skills they've learnt from the colonial powers to take over the running of their own, progressive and thoroughly modernised country. But they find that it's not as easy as all that - there are still strong forces in play that want to get rid of the poison of European ideas and take the country back to an - illusory - ideal of the African past. This ideological conflict is brought into a tangible form when the traditional ruler of Yode's home-town, Ìsarà, dies, and there are two obvious candidates for the succession, one a conservative and the other an Ex-Ilé with a civil-service job in Lagos.

On the whole, this is a lighter, funnier book than The Interpreters - the mood is closer to Aké - but it has its moments of dark violence and sinister magical influences as well.

I was amused to see that Soyinka manages to bring in a sub-plot in which a foreign conman is practicing an advance-fee scam on innocent Nigerians. Especially since the perpetrator is a Trinidadian-Asian based in London. Surely Soyinka wouldn't be using this as a way to tease a future fellow-Nobelist...? ( )
  thorold | Mar 2, 2018 |
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A fictionalised memoir and sequel to Ak*e : the years of childhood. It is a tribute to the author's father and also provides a picture of the Nigeria of his father's generation - before and during the Second World War.

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