A new work by a Nobel laureate is generally a cause for celebration, but in Wole Soyinka’s case, it’s especially significant. It’s been nearly 50 years since he published his last novel, “The Interpreters,” and though his work has spanned multiple genres — poetry, plays, memoirs and essays — his new novel, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth,” manages to chart fresh territory. At 87, the first sub-Saharan author to be honored by Stockholm remains a brilliant thinker and tinkerer. “Chronicles” combines elements of a murder mystery, a searing political satire and an “Alice in Wonderland”-like modern allegory of power and deceit.
The novel picks up just as Nigeria — or the author’s stand-in for his home country — is gearing up to celebrate its annual Festival of the People of Happiness, yet another example of official doublespeak. The ruling People on the Move Party (“POMP”) have turned the country into a vast, innocuous reality show even as violence, fanaticism and ruthless plunder wreak havoc across the land. But when Dr. Kighare Menka, famous for tending to the mutilated victims of Boko Haram, stumbles upon a black market in human body parts, the nation’s ugly secrets begin to surface.
And that’s just the beginning of the conspiracies, which stretch from a charlatan preacher named Papa Divina to the president, Sir Godfrey O. Danfere. The mysterious death of Menka’s blood-brother, Duyole Pitan-Payne — who came of age with Menka during the hopeful early years of independence — tightens the web of intrigue. What did he know? Who wanted him dead? And when, exactly, did Nigeria sink so low? These and other questions — personal, moral, social and political — percolate through Soyinka’s acidly comic take on his country’s “grim contest in human desecration, physical and mental.” Soyinka spoke with The Times via email about the new book, his homeland and his own legacy.
Wole Soyinka was born on July 13, 1934 in Abeokuta, Nigeria as Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka. He is a writer and actor, known for Kongi’s Harvest (1970), Joshua: A Nigerian Portrait (1963) and Un dieu au bord de la route (1994).