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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

     

A Play of Giants

by
Wole Soyinka


general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase A Play of Giants



Title: A Play of Giants
Author: Wole Soyinka
Genre: Drama
Written: 1984
Length: 75 pages
Availability: A Play of Giants - US
A Play of Giants - UK
A Play of Giants - Canada

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Our Assessment:

B- : some fun, but ultimately too simplistic

See our review for fuller assessment.




Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times . 11/12/1984 Frank Rich


  From the Reviews:
  • "Mr. Soyinka, the Nigerian playwright, poet, novelist and essayist, spares no one in this farcical fantasy about African dictators at loose in New York. The first, second and third worlds, eastern and western divisions, are all mowed down in the relentless comic barrage. (...) This work could only have been written by an African such as Mr. Soyinka, who spent nearly two years in solitary confinement on trumped- up charges during the Nigerian Civil War of the 1960's. (...) Even more impressive is Mr. Soyinka's evenhanded political analysis." - Frank Rich, The New York Times

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       A Play of Giants is set in the 'Bugaran' Embassy in New York, where several of Africa's most ridiculous tyrants have gathered. A sculptor is immortalizing them, but they are hard to set in stone -- for one, because of their constant concern about their countries collapsing (or leadership falling into other hands), especially in their absence.
       The three figures (Gunema, Kasco, and Kamini), and the fourth who joins them (Tuboum) are readily recognisable: as Soyinka explains: "No serious effort is made here to hide the identities of the real-life actors who have served as models for A Play of Giants." They are:

  • Benefacio Gunema: Macias Nguema (Equitorial Guinea)
  • Emperor Kasco: Jean-Baptiste Bokassa (Central African Republic)
  • Field-Marshal Kamini: Idi Amin (Uganda)
  • General Barra Tuboum: Mobuto Sese Seko (Congo/Zaïre)
       Kamini, the host, is the central character, and A Play of Giants focusses in particular on this abomination that was Amin.
       The play offers some Western sycophants and apologists -- notably Gudrun, a Scandinavian journalist, and Professor Batey -- as well the Secretary General of the UN and, eventually, representatives of the two then-superpowers, the US and USSR. Most of the figures are caricatures, the play itself a satire that spares no one.
       The African leaders are shown in their complete absurdity -- power-mad men with no concept of politics, economics, or diplomacy. The Chairman of the Bugaran State Bank tries, for example, to explain that merely printing more currency will not solve the country's financial problems, and winds up spending most of the play with his head held down in a toilet. Among the leaders' biggest problems: how to keep their entourages from abandoning them, especially while they're abroad (i.e. where associates can flee and escape retribution)
       The domestic collapse of their countries, far away, is nevertheless mirrored in the events in the embassy, Kamini abandoned by those he thought loyal to him, but still meting out arbitrary (in)justice and holding everything (or at least what's left) together by sheer terror, his unpredictability and irrationality forcing everyone to treat him with care.
       Some of the leaders' delusions are amusing, and some of their power-plays chilling; sadly, Soyinka did not have to invent much to paint these caricatures: this is, more or less, how these men were and what they did.
       There's little introspection from these leaders, though Kasco does observe:
Power comes only with the death of politics. That is why I chose to become emperor. I place myself beyond politics. At the moment of my coronation, I signal to the world that I transcend the intrigues and mundaness of politics. Now I inhabit only the pure realm of power. I fear, mes amis, all three of you have chosen to remain in the territory of politics. But -- is it choice ? Or are you trapped ?
       Kamini is shown as a charismatic charmer. He doesn't really fool anyone, but for their various reasons everybody puts up with (or kowtows to) him. Meanwhile, the Americans and Russians are presented as cynical Cold War realists, indifferent to the plight of the African people and nations, as long as their interests are served.
       All in all it makes for good if ugly fun, but the humour isn't really sharp enough and the satire simply too broad and simplistic to make it a truly satisfying play. These are easy targets, and while Soyinka savages them well enough he does so with little finesse. Since the stories -- and the foolishness of all those who put up with these tyrants -- are well-known, there's limited novelty here. The lesson has been taught many times before, even if it still hasn't been learned, and A Play of Giants is successful only in depicting it once again, rather than actually dealing with it.

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Links:

Wole Soyinka: Other books by Wole Soyinka under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Nigerian author Wole Soyinka was born in 1934. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.

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© 2004-2012 the complete review

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