(French) Guinea: Growing up in French Africa

During my reading journey I’ve found that I either really like or dislike African writing. Some books are absolutely fantastic, whereas others are too far fetched for me, and if it wasn’t for my reading challenge I would not bother finishing those books. Guyana made me a bit anxious since I knew this was yet another country with not too many books to choose from. I was therefore extremely lucky to find The Dark Child by Camara Laye.

What makes this book unique is that there is no civil war, no, rape, no violence. Was I really reading an African biography? Camara Laye grew up in Guyana in the 1930s and 1940s. There are some animistic beliefs in the story, but that is a normal part of life in many African cultures, and it fit into the book well. There’s a snake on the book cover, and it turns out there is a special snake in the book. Other snakes and wild animals are gotten rid of quickly, but not this little black snake. “The snake, he said, is the guiding spirit of our race. Can you understand that? Yes, I answered, although I did not understand very well.”

There is, of course, the ritual circumcision in the book, another specialty that seems to be in many African books. It is a good introduction to the country, culture, and French Africa in general. Camara grew up in the village of Koroussa, the village of his father and grandmother. It has a very special personal voice, even though it’s written in quite a monotone, simplistic way. It feels so honest. It is an autobiography, but it reads like a novel.

In some ways I enjoy that there are many things in our world that are universal. However, not all of them are necessary good things. In a coming-of-age story going to school is naturally an important part of a boy’s life. Camara does not want to go to school. He’s afraid of the older boys. They steal money and lunches from the younger ones. They give the younger boys whippings. When parents get involved it does not immediately mean things get better. Universal, it seems.

I find many rituals to be interesting. How on earth did they start? Who came up with them? How long will they be preserved? In this book the interesting ritual is for young uncircumcised boys; the joining of the society of uninitiated.  What make it interesting is Kondén Diara, a terrible bogeyman, the lion that eats young boys. There are lions roaring, many lions. The young boys have to pretend that they are really not that scared. Obviously they are scared.

I believe this is a good book to start out with if the reader is not familiar with African cultures in general. It explains the animistic beliefs and other specialities in a way that I feel I understand it all a bit better now. I admit I have read some books before this which made me confused, not really understanding what I’ve just read, but this one explained some of the mysteries to me. The Dark Child is an enjoyable and quick read!

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