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the Complete Review
the complete review - non-fiction

Of Africa

Wole Soyinka

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To purchase Of Africa

Title: Of Africa
Author: Wole Soyinka
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012
Length: 199 pages
Availability: Of Africa - US
Of Africa - UK
Of Africa - Canada
Of Africa - India

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Our Assessment:

B+ : fine overview, useful perspective

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 4/11/2012 Adam Hochschild
Publishers Weekly . 24/9/2012 .
Wall St. Journal . 3/11/2012 George Ayittey

  From the Reviews:
  • "The book is vague, ponderous and awkward. (...) The book abounds in passages full of 10-dollar words that have to be read two or three times to figure out what they mean. (...) If I’m right about the inner conflict reflected in Soyinka’s contorted prose, one thing I wish I could say to him is that perhaps he takes Africa’s woes too much to heart." - Adam Hochschild, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Pitched to a general reader but with implications for specialists as well, this is necessarily big thinking laced with the subtle insights and analogies of a gifted writer, and a stirring defense of the "spiritual aspirations" of human beings for freedom and peace." - Publishers Weekly

  • "Mr. Soyinka's motivation for writing Of Africa was his search for an African humanism that could counter the deadly consequences of religious fanaticism. He urges Africans to remember their continent's traditions and recognize that tolerance is at the center of African spirituality." - George Ayittey, Wall Street Journal

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:

       It might surprise at first that in Of Africa Wole Soyinka does take a continental approach. Too often all of 'Africa' is lumped together, in media reports and policy debates, when of course it is a stunningly diverse continent in any number of respects. But Soyinka does take a big-picture approach -- and one reason he does so is that, as he points out, the way Africa has been carved up is nonsensical, and so to focus on the artificial nation-states in place today brings with it the danger of overlooking more fundamental issues.
       Obviously, the "quilt work" of boundaries demarcating the African states have been and remain an enormous problem and hindrance, in development and much else. As Soyinka suggests:

The concerted fictioning of Africa by imperial powers, known by its more familiar name -- partitioning -- is simply a continuation of the superimposition of speculation, interest, or willed reality over history and fact by direct means, and it requires its own separate and more tragic treatment. Africa remains the monumental fiction of European creativity. Every so-called nation on that continent is a mere fiction perpetrated in the cause of external interests by imperial powers, a fiction that both colonial rule and post-independence have struggled and failed -- in the main -- to turn into an enduring, cohering reality.
       Soyinka can not ignore these artificial nation-states, but he usefully steps back and tries to consider Africa on its own terms, rather than many of the imposed ones. (And he looks favorably upon, for example, the separation of Sudan, a breaking-free of what was imposed (arduous though that process was).)
       One of the areas he focuses on is the concept of spirituality, as he notes that competing vicious religious ideologies -- Christianity and Islam -- have had, and continue to have a particularly pernicious influence. As he notes:
so many spiritual structures of the world -- most notoriously the two claimants to primacy -- Judeo-Christianity and Islam -- are soaked in intolerance, blood, hatred, and insecurity, evincing every form of antihumanist deadliness as basic conditions for their very survival.
       He contrasts these with the Orisa religion of the Yoruba, in which he can find many more positives. Among his arguments is a discussion of the notorious cancelled 2006 Idomeneo-production at the Deutsche Oper, with its decapitated deities and religious figures: amusingly, he voices what is only half-mocking outrage about the fact that no African deities were presented decapitated (or otherwise) -- but also notes that in any case, Orisa-devotees would not have found: "such theatrical decapitation of their deities offensive" -- a completely different attitude than found in the now-near-hysterical West (not to mention most of what is considered the 'Muslim world').
       Religion remains problematic, with Soyinka suggesting:
Religion is not so much the opium of the people as it is the homeopathy of the human Condition.
       As with his suggestion of Orisa as an alternative to the imposed religions, or as he questions the imposed national borders, Soyinka's approach throughout Of Africa is one of re-placing what appear to have become norms with a more traditional viewpoint that comes from Africa itself (and not outside of it) -- at least as a thought-experiment (as he acknowledges, too, that the practicalities of shifts are ... at the very least, complex).
       If unable to comprehensively resituate Africa itself, Soyinka's perspective nevertheless is helpful in guiding readers to a different way of looking at much that is Africa, and, as such, Of Africa is an eloquent and useful starting point for readers.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 October 2012

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Of Africa: Reviews: 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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© 2012-2021 the complete review

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