Reviews for Of Africa

Booklist Reviews 2012 November #2
In this essay collection, Nigerian writer Soyinka, the first African to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, examines the meaning of Africa as a concept and a category, an enigma and an imperative. His goal, however, is less to define Africa than to reject those who would limit it through externally imposed categories; he seeks instead to retrieve a few grains for germination from the wasteful threshing floor of Africa's existential totality. His essays thus query how Africa's history continues to impose limitations on its present: probing, for example, the continued consequences of artificial national boundaries imposed by Europeans centuries ago, or the legacy of European failed efforts to will ideas about what Africa is, or what Africa could be, into reality. Soyinka does not deceive himself about the profound problems that Africa faces today. But the overall tenor of this selection is optimistic, emphasizing Africa's capacity to inspire authentic spirituality (the continent, he reminds us, is filled with religions that point the way to the harmonization of faiths) and resilient, life-embracing humanity. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 April
"What," Soyinka asks, "does the continent known as Africa possess that the rest--or a greater part--of the globe does not already have in superabundance?" In this slim volume he provides multiple responses to that question. Divided into two parts--"Past into Present" and "Body and Soul"--the eight essays look at critically contemporary debates, their historical precedents, and future anticipations regarding the "continent known as Africa." In considering, for example, the current relevance of the map of Africa, (mostly) drawn in Berlin in 1884-5, with reference to Herodotus, Shakespeare, 19th-century colonial (and anti-colonial) writers, and 20th-century human rights advocates (with specific reference to Rwanda and Darfur), Soyinka reminds his readers that the ritual of the "tree of forgetfulness" must be watered if historical remembrance will survive. In part 2, Soyinka revisits the story of Africa, the one continent that "no one actually claims to have "discovered," in terms of the place and its peoples, their own struggles over the colonial and post-/neo-colonial centuries "between fundamentalist ruthlessness and secular excess." Soyinka concludes "optimistically," however, that the "new Scramble for Africa" might yet "confer on [the continent] an unaccustomed status--the vital role of a Global Culture Recourse and--Arbiter." Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty. B. Harlow University of Texas at Austin Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 May #1
The Nigerian 1986 Nobel Laureate (Literature) offers a slender, hopeful volume about his native continent's potential for healing the world's spiritual ills. Now nearing 80, Soyinka--playwright, novelist, poet, memoirist (You Must Set Forth at Dawn, 2006)--writes that a "truly illuminating exploration of Africa has yet to take place." And so he commences one, though he does not gloss over the continent's sanguinary history--or present. Currently, he sees boundary disputes and "the honey-pot of power," as well as the enduring issues of race and fundamentalist religions imposed from the outside, as damaging to Africa's potential. He conducts a quick journey through history, showing readers the Africa envisioned by the actual (Herodotus) and the fictional (Othello) and the Africa whom outsiders insisted on viewing as populated by inferiors. Soyinka argues that the abuse of Africa and Africans (i.e., the slave trade) belongs in company with the Holocaust and Hiroshima in the museum of human inhumanity. He also wonders why, in 2006, the global media obsessed over some Danish cartoons insulting to Islam while virtually ignoring the vast slaughter in Darfur. He argues most strenuously against fundamentalist religions (especially Christianity and Islam), which, he says, subjugate both body and spirit. He identifies them, dispassionately, as "destabilising factors," more harshly as "resolved to set the continent on fire." Soyinka offers a hopeful solution: the more gentle, encompassing, tolerant beliefs of the Yoruba. He offers anecdotal accounts of non-Western medical achievements and paeans to a more accepting, less intrusive, nonviolent set of spiritual beliefs encompassed by the Yoruba deity Orisa. A brief but eloquent plea for peace. Perhaps it takes a Nobel Laureate to see hope as the beating heart in the body of despair. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 September #4

The Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian writer and activist offers a fascinating, urgent appraisal of Africa's relationship to the world, with Africa functioning as a conceptual construct as much as specific geopolitical, economic, or cultural realities. At a time of global crisis, Soyinka (Aké: The Years of Childhood) sees unique potential for Africa to act as a conduit for peace. Soyinka uses the 2001 Millennium Commission report on Africa spearheaded by former U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan as a springboard to both assess critical problems and challenges--high-level corruption, interethnic fighting, famine, disease, religious and racial violence, and postcolonial economic dependency--and muse on a broader imperial discourse ("the past ‘fictioning' of Africa") that brings both Africa and, in particular, the West into a mutual, tenuous definition. If Africa's contributions to history have been diminished in the cultural and intellectual valuations of outsiders, it remains an untapped resource of human material, intellectual, and spiritual energies capable of contributing to a world beset by violent binaries. 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. Agent: Melanie Jackson Agency. (Nov.)

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