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You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir (Anglais) Relié – 11 avril 2006

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IBA—For Those Who Went Before

..... Outside myself at moments like this, heading home, I hesitate a moment to check if it is truly a living me. Perhaps I am just a disembodied self usurping my body, strapped into a business-class seat in the plane, being borne to my designated burial ground—the cactus patch on the grounds of my home in Abeokuta, a mere hour’s escape by road from the raucous heart of Lagos. Perhaps I am not really within the cabin of the plane at all but lying in a coffin with the luggage, disguised as an innocent box to fool the superstitious, while my ghost persists in occupying a seat whose contours have grown familiar through five years of a restless exile that began in 1994. For my mind chooses this moment to travel twelve years backward when, drained of all emotion, I accom- panied the body of my friend Femi Johnson from Wiesbaden in Germany, bringing him home in defiance of the unfathomable conspiracy to leave him in that foreign land like a stray without ties of family and friends. And the pangs that assail me briefly stem from the renewed consciousness of the absence of this friend, whose thunder-roll laughter and infectious joy of life would have overwhelmed those welcoming voices that I know await me at my destination. Despite the eternal moment of farewell by his open coffin in the funeral parlor in Wiesbaden, it was difficult then, and remained continuously so, to reconcile that self with the absence of a vitality that we had all taken so long for granted, his big but compact frame in a box, immaculately dressed as though simply from habit—be it in a double-breasted suit with a carnation freshly cut by his chauffeur from the frontage garden, then laid ritualistically beside his breakfast set, or else in his casual outfit, its components no less carefully matched for all its seeming casualness, or his hunting attire, which appeared selected for a genteel English countryside ramble instead of a “rumble in the jungle.” Difficult to accept the closed eyes that would bulge at some inspired business idea, at the prospect of a gastronomic spread, at the sight of a passing generously endowed female, or simply when charged with a newly thought-up mischief—but always lighting up the space around him. Still, I could not rest until I had brought him home, exhuming him from the graveyard in Wiesbaden, and the clinicality of my motions at the time made me wonder if I had left my soul in that alien graveyard in his stead.

It must be, of course, the coincidence of the airline that triggers such a somber recollection, in the main—that final homecoming for Femi was also on a Lufthansa flight. And it was a coming home for me also, since my moment-to-moment existence from the time of his death until his reburial was in some ethereal zone, peopled by eyes of the restless dead from distances of silent rebuke. I came back down to earth only when he was himself within the earth of his choice, earth that he had made his own: Ibadan. And it is this that now reinforces the unthinkable and irrational, that this same Femi—“OBJ” to numerous friends, business partners, and acquaintances—is not in Ibadan at this moment awaiting my return, his sweaty face, black as the cooking pots, supervising the kitchen in a frenzy of anticipation, with an array of wines lined up to celebrate a long-anticipated reunion! Femi should be alive for this moment. If any single being deserved and could contain in himself the entirety of the emotions that belong to this return, it is none other than OBJ, and he is gone.

It is a long-craved homecoming, my personalized seal on the end of the nightmare that was signaled by the death of a tyrant, Sani Abacha, yet here I am, trying to find reasons for my lack of feeling, trying to ensure that it is not just a mask, a perverse exercise in control, this absence of the quickening of the pulse. It is that other homeward journey of twelve years past that stubbornly sticks to the mind, that of a friend forever still in a casket in the belly of the plane, I seated among the living but stone cold to the world, conscious of this fact but only in a detached way and wondering why I was still so devoid of the sensation of loss. It could be, I acknowledge, the aftermath of the battle to bring home his remains—plainly, it had left me drained of all feeling. This return has not, so it must be that I have carried that home so obsessively in my head these past five years that I am unable to experience the journey as one toward the recovery of a zone of deprivation. The absence of Femi, who persists in looming large, a territory of dulled bereavement, is only a part of it. The adrenaline had been secreted over time, stored up, and then—pfft—evaporated in an instant, there being no further use for it.

One seeks these explanations somewhat desultorily, since I already acknowledge that this is not quite the homecoming I had anticipated, not quite the way my return had been planned, not this legitimate arrival, swooping toward Lagos on a normal flight as if Lagos were Frankfurt, New York, or Dakar. Surely it is not the same white-haired monster, that same “wanted” man with a price on his head, hunted the world over, who is headed home, steadily lubricated by the aircraft’s generous bar. I continue to interrogate the featureless flatness of my mind—compared to it, the pastel evenness of the Sahara Desert, over which we appear to be eternally suspended, seems a craggy, wild, untamable, and exotic piece of landscape.

I acknowledge that I am not much given to sentiment, but after all, I am not normally averse to being welcomed home! Indeed, I often wonder if, for others similarly embattled, homecoming does not gradually become a central motif of their active existence. For instance, I find I dislike airport farewells—the exceptions have usually been preceded by some kind of tug-of-war to which I eventually yielded, often through emotional blackmail. By contrast, I am somewhat more accommodating with the motions of being welcomed back, though, even here, I am just as likely to be found sneaking in through the back door. Generally, my inclination is simply—to have returned. To find myself back in the place I never should have left. Or where returning is no different from never having left, a routine recovery of a space of normal being, temporarily fractured, restoration of which has no significance whatsoever and requires no special recognition. In any case, each homecoming differs wildly from the last, and this goes back to my very earliest awareness of such an event, the end of a physical separation, when I first returned home from studying overseas—on New Year’s Day 1960, the year of Nigeria’s independence. Then, feeling already long in the tooth at twenty-five, I had contrived to sneak home, to the discomfiture of parents, family, and relations. Normally, such a return should have been an occasion for celebration, varying from modest and restricted to festive and all-embracing, the latter gathering in distant clans and even total strangers with that ringing invocation that must have been adopted by the first-line beneficiaries of European education—Our Argonaut has returned from over the seas after a long, perilous voyage in his quest for the Golden Fleece!—or any of its hundred variations.

It is perhaps the sedateness of this return that continues to sit awkwardly on me, an abrupt usurpation of the other furtive homecoming that nearly was! Not that I regret the change, oh no, not for a moment! T’agba ba nde, a a ye ogun ja—thus goes the Yoruba wisdom—“As one approaches an elder’s status, one ceases to indulge in battles.” Some hope! When that piece of wisdom was first voiced, a certain entity called Nigeria had not yet been thought of. In any case, I appear to have failed in my ambition to “grow old gracefully”—no more strife, no more susceptibilities to beauty’s provocation, and so on—a process I had once confidently set to begin at the magic figure of forty-nine, seven times seven, the magic number of my companion deity, Ogun. But at least I accept that there comes a moment when age dictates the avoidance of certain forms of engagement. That makes sense and is also just. There comes a point in one’s life when one should no longer be obliged to sneak into one’s homeland through mangrove creeks and smugglers’ haunts, and in ludicrous disguises!

I worry therefore about the absence of feeling, the absence of even a grateful nod to Providence, and seek some reassurance that my senses are not fully dead, that the emotional province of the mind is still functioning. I obtain a measure of relief, however—indeed, I begin to worry now that the senses may be roaming out of control—when, even within the recycled air of the plane’s interior, overflying nothing but Sahara dunes and dust, I could swear, suddenly, that I already smell the humid air of Lagos, the fetid dung heaps, the raucous marketplaces and overcrowded streets. I am certain that I can hear, dominating even the steady purr of the jet engines, the noisy street vendors with their dubious bargains, see the sly conspiratorial grins of some as they offer contraband of the most dangerous kind—and this had become routine even before I fled into exile in November 1994—banned publications that they slide out from under the pile of other journals, like pornography in other places. Psst! They sidle up to motorists at traffic junctions and delays, with the mainstream journals on conspicuous display. Then, indifferent to the risk that the prospective customer might turn out to be a secret service agent or one of Abacha’s ubiquitous informers, they flash the sensational cover of Tempo, The News, The Concord, Tell, or some other ...

Revue de presse

Praise for Wole Soyinka

“What if V. S. Naipaul were a happy man? What if V. S. Pritchett had loved his parents? What if Vladimir Nabokov had grown up in a small town in western Nigeria and decided that politics were not unworthy of him? I do not take or drop these names in vain. Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist, playwright, critic, and professor of comparative literature, belongs in their company.”
–John Leonard, The New York Times

“[Soyinka is] a master of language, and [is committed] as a dramatist and writer of poetry and prose to problems of general and deep significance for man.”
–Lars Gyllensten, from his presentation speech awarding Wole Soyinka the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1986

“A brilliant imagist who uses poetry and drama to convey his inquisitiveness, frustration, and sense of wonder.”

“If the spirit of African democracy has a voice and a face, they belong to Wole Soyinka.”
–Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The New York Times

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Détails sur le produit

  • Relié: 528 pages
  • Editeur : Random House (11 avril 2006)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 037550365X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375503658
  • Dimensions du produit: 16,3 x 3,2 x 24,2 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 2.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (1 commentaire client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 1.166.888 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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0 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par véronique Veyrié le 20 juin 2012
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
je ne suis pas parvenue à lire l'oeuvre jusqu'au bout alors que je connais l'ensemble de l'oeuvre de Soyinka pour avoir préparé une thèse ( hélas non achevée ) sur ce grand auteur ainsi que sur quelque uns de ses compatriotes
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Amazon.com: 16 commentaires
21 internautes sur 22 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Captivating read! 24 novembre 2006
Par Jimi Oke - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
This is my first taste of Soyinka's work, except for the few scenes of "The Lion and The Jewel" I gleaned many years ago.

I haven't read many autobiographies, but this is without question one of the best I have read. Solidly written, with a plethora of hilarious, as well as sobering anecdotes, and a masterful deployment of literary devices, this, surely is a chef-d'oeuvre. However, this book is not only an autobiography but an excellent historical account of Nigeria's political history since independence in 1960.

Catapulted right into the middle of the action and intrigue that took hold of the nation, I learned new things and gained a lot of useful insight into how the nation became to be what it is today and the various roles of those involved in shaping its destiny.

I grabbed this book because I wanted to learn more about the history of my country from the mouth of a seasoned literary figure. I was astounded to discover that he was completely involved in the struggle right from the beginning. What is more, I was rewarded with a distinctive literary style and all the rewards it brings - new vocabulary, new expressions, and more knowledge.

And I completely disagree with those who complain that Soyinka is too wordy and dawdles over many unnecessary details before getting to the real thing. What real thing are they searching for, anyway? This, after all, is a memoir. Moreover, every page, every word was an absolute treat.

Of course, I do not necessarily agree with all his ideologies, but his honest style through which he sometimes seems to contradict himself, is but a true reflection of how the human mind works.

Highly recommended, and you can be sure to be rewarded with far more than you intially expected at the end of this book.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Life, art and politics 5 juillet 2006
Par Hedzoleh - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Soyinka skilfully offers refreshing glimpses into his life as a humble, honest and courageous individual. He is deeply spiritual but definitely not a holier-than-thou prude. Soyinka's infectious enjoyment of life comes across in his passion for hunting, wine, music, art and, of course, women. It seems that it is this enduring appreciation of the immense possibilities of life that drives his resistance to dictatorship and systems that seek to rob the individual of the opportunity to partake in the sacrement of life. The man, his art and his politics are inseperable.
8 internautes sur 9 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A must read for those interested in Nigerian history since independence 10 septembre 2006
Par Michael Crown - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
Mr. Soyinka, masterfully uses his life as a running commentary for the state of political affairs in Nigeria since 1960. While the book does speak on a lot of serious issues there are many moments of hilarity such as when W.H Auden passes him off as an African Prince and the quest to recover an acient mask that led Mr. Soyinka to Brazil.

Mr. Soyinka's style tends to be a little heavy on grammar but overall it is a great book, one that I am happy to have bought.
4 internautes sur 4 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I DISAGREE 18 novembre 2009
Par Uzo Dibia - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I disagree with all those who think this is an exercise, by the author, in self aggrandisement and hubris.Far from it, this is an old man telling the story, or some stories, of the often turbulent and privileged life he has lived.To say the book is boring is an unfair comment by those who may seem threatened by Soyinka's word prowess.

I have enjoyed all Soyinka's prose more than his poetry, and even drama( the beatification of area boy comes to mind)in some cases.However,I have always seen it as a necessity to arm oneself with a dictionary when attempting a Soyinka work.He makes no apologies for his use of hifaluting words; the imagery invoked at times is most beautiful and at others , it is lost on the reader as it is totally incomprehensible.In that respect, I do sympathise with a lot of readers.I too have struggled to grasp certain concepts, and to undertsand his use of certain terms.Having said this, my diction and imagination have become the better for it.

This book is well written, but there is a lack of coherence in the chapters -one idea set forth in one area is so far removed from its predecessor or successor.Also, a lot of what he has written has been mentioned, allbeit, cursorily, in his other works-The Man Died, Ibadan:The Penkelemes Years.Did he really need to rehash the same things? Maybe and maybe not. A lot of people who are not too familiar with the development of Nigeria may not readily appreciate the social dynamics and certain characters mentioned in the book. I guess I have had the (dis)honour of having lived in some of the turbulent times and am familiar with a lot of the villains as told through Soyinka's eyes.I may have been a child in the eighties, but felt the brunt of the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, the corruption of the Babangida era, and the tyranny of Sani Abacha.I could readily identify with what the author what saying.Perhaps that is why some others may find it difficult to appreciate that part of a country's history;the linguistic sophistication does not help matters either.

There were passages of sheer beauty, and there you see Soyinka excel in his use of vocabulary.Compared to his other works, I found I did not have to consult my dictionary as often.I suspect it is an improvement in my diction and not the author becoming soft.

Overall, I think if one were to take up the challenge of reading the book there is some reward; it may be in learning new words, grasping new concepts and ways of presenting ideas. More importantly, others who have never been to, or been exposed to, Nigeria, will get to know its beauty,its people, the decimation and ruination of its collective psyche by past leaders, and how the inchoate democracy is striving to reclaim that lost glory.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An Engaging and Riveting Memoir 8 juin 2012
Par Lanre Ogundimu - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
I expected a master piece from a mastermind in You Must Set Forth at Dawn, and I was not disappointed. Indeed, I got value for the money and time I spent on this engaging memoir by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

The author has been one of the prominent actors in the political and socio-economic journey of Nigeria. He was a leading player in the western Nigeria uprising of 1964-65 in which he hijacked a radio station in Ibadan. He was active in the Nigerian civil war, for which he was imprisoned. And he was a thorn in the flesh of several military and democratic rulers in Nigeria.

However, the book is not only about Soyinka's political battles and rascality particularly in Nigeria and Africa, but also about his core beliefs, such as justice, freedom, honor, and merit. And he is passionate about true friendship, as illustrated by his profuse dedication and homage to a late friend, Olufemi Babington Johnson (OBJ).

Soyinka is intellectually mischievous and intelligently deviant. The book is filled with riveting episodes and anecdotes about his student days in England; acquaintance with literary giants, including British philosopher Bertrand Russell; falling in love with a dancer in Havana, Cuba; clandestine diplomatic shuttles around the world; dinners with world leaders in many countries, including with Nelson Mandela and Francois Mitterrand in Paris; an encounter with President Bill Clinton; and a quiet lunch in Israel with Shimon Peres, when he was no longer Israeli Prime Minister.

However, as I read the book, these words continue to ring in my head: Whose spy is Wole Soyinka? Which foreign governments are his paymasters? His connection with security agents is mystifying. Often, he is ahead of people who are after his life, thanks to his informants in government and security agencies. Sometimes, he is so comfortable strolling on the streets of major world capitals, and at other times, he is undercover because members of a roving death squad are after him all over Europe and America.

How did Soyinka know of a secret telephone in the wardrobe of Olusegun Obasanjo, then Officer Commanding Western Zone of the Nigerian Army in the 1960s? Obasanjo, who later became Nigeria's military head of state, and a democratic president, never knew the telephone existed in his own bedroom until Soyinka called him on the telephone box. That shows the level of Soyinka's influence even in the military intelligence corps.

But as I immersed myself in the book and followed some daring sagas and daredevil acts by the author, the answer unfurled. Soyinka is nobody's `spook.'

Whether he is on a fact-finding and exploratory visit to Bekuta, a slave settlement in Jamaica inhabited by descendants of the Egbas who might have migrated from Abeokuta in Ogun State, western part of Nigeria; or in Bahia, Brazil to retrieve a stolen artifact; Soyinka exhibited a kamikaze mind-set difficult to comprehend superficially. But as I reflected deeply, I understood that he follows and holds tenaciously to any cause he truly cherishes. I call that, passion.

My best chapter in the book is, Olori-Kunkun and Ori-Olokun. The chapter is vintage Soyinka. For me, this encapsulates his nature. Ori-Olokun is a "long-lost" bronze head of a principal Yoruba deity stolen from a courtyard in Ife, the cradle of Yoruba civilization. Soyinka traced the relic to Bahia in Brazil, with the intention of stealing it from the home of a private art collector and returning it to its due place in Africa. But a surprise awaited him.

The book has vivid plots, characters and dialogues. And I wonder if Soyinka wrote in a diary many of the events and people he described profoundly in the book. But that is not so, because he explained on the acknowledgement section that he didn't keep such a diary.

I was so sucked into the scenery which came alive as he ran from Oyo State in Nigeria to the Republic of Benin through the bush on the way to exile. As I read this divine escape, I was transported to the thick forest, dodging the branches of trees which lashed and lacerated the author as he sat precariously on a motorbike on a moonless night.

I was able to follow the entire book without being lost in some sections which have winding details and numerous digressions. Soyinka used digression copiously to create suspense, to espouse his beliefs or engage in reflective thinking. I am not sure if this style will not put off some impatient readers.

Despite this, I truly enjoyed the book. Not only once, but twice, I read it.
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