Two of the books I finished recently were both memoirs of growing up in Africa, western Africa to be precise. While the two books were published 50 years apart, there were a few interesting similarities.
The first book was A Long Way Gone:Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah. Beah's memoir was great. It was the 2008 selection for the Multnomah
County Library's Everyone Reads project. It was also heavily promoted by Starbucks. I must have liked his book
'cause I burned through it in no time. Maybe because of the author's
African origins the book had a slight feel of magical realism to it,
despite it being a memoir. I liked the author's voice. I thought it
was appropriate for a young man who's innocence was stolen by the
horrors of war and who later went on to regain his humanity, slowly and
painstakingly with the help of several caring and dedicated adults.
After reading A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier I was in the mood for another memoir of growing up in Africa.
Fortunately for me several years ago at a used book sale I picked up
Camara Laye's 1954 book The Dark Child: An Autobiography of an African Boy The
book languished unread for far too long until Beah's memoir got me
inspired to read it. My particular copy was published in the late 1960s
in the United Kingdom under the title The African Child: Memories of a West African Childhood. While nothing spectacular, the book held my interest. Like many books
in the world, some parts were more interesting than others. And since my edition was written over 50 years ago, I did not have the luxury of a more modern translation.
Both memoirs showed the centrality of two of the most relevant institutions in West Africa:the family and the village. Both also showed the great importance of dance in everyday cultural life, whether it be dance in traditional form, or in a modern American-inspired hip-hop style, (which in Beah's memoir hip-hop actually saved his life on several occasions). Lastly, both memoirs show a non-puritanical, almost live and let live form of Islam which seems to coexist rather well with Christian and native beliefs.
I'm hoping to follow-up these two memoirs with other books about Africa. I have had King Leopold's Ghost and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa sitting unread in my library for far too long and perhaps now is a good time to dust them off and get them read.