Renowned Nigerian author Wole Soyinka’s latest novel, “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth,” has been published in French, offering readers a captivating exploration of an imaginary version of Nigeria. In an interview with RFI, Soyinka shared the inspiration behind the book, driven by his anger, frustration, and puzzlement over the country’s pervasive corruption and global dysfunction.
The title of the novel was inspired by a Gallup poll that ranked Nigeria among the happiest nations in the world. Curious about the reasons behind this ranking, Soyinka embarked on a journey to unravel the truth. The story follows Papa Davina, a self-proclaimed guru who gains an unexpected following after returning from the United States. Soyinka delves into the allure and theatrics surrounding charismatic figures like Papa Davina, irrespective of their religious background.
Amidst this backdrop, two friends, Dr. Menka, a doctor, and Duyole Pitan-Payne, an engineer and Yoruba royal, navigate a morally collapsing society on the brink of social upheaval. Through their adventures and dialogues, Soyinka sheds light on the human side of a society grappling with moral decay.
The novel has garnered praise from the French press for its satirical elements, skillfully blending humor and horror to expose political corruption. Described by Nigerian-British poet and novelist Ben Okri as a shocking reflection of political corruption in a country reminiscent of Soyinka’s homeland, the book offers a searing critique of society.
Born in 1934, Soyinka was the first African writer to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. Throughout his career, he has fearlessly used his writing to address issues of dictatorship, governance, and corruption in Nigeria and beyond. Soyinka’s earlier works, primarily plays such as “The Invention,” “The Swamp Dwellers,” and “The Lion and the Jewel,” showcased his talent for satirizing social ills.
After gaining international recognition for his plays, Soyinka moved to London and worked as a play reader for the Royal Court Theatre. He later returned to Nigeria, where he continued to produce essays, poetry, memoirs, operas, short stories, and two novels: “The Interpreters” and “Season of Anomy.”
Soyinka’s unwavering activism against corruption and manipulation of the masses led him to even attempt launching a party of “progressives” in the late 2000s. Throughout his career, he has engaged in intellectual exchanges with African writers, artists, and thinkers through his involvement with the Présence Africaine review.
In his latest novel, Soyinka incorporates French words and expressions that reflect the multicultural reality of cities like Lagos, where many French-speaking West Africans live and work. This fusion of languages and cultures adds depth and authenticity to the narrative, making it a compelling read for audiences both within and beyond Nigeria.
The French edition of “Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth” offers readers a thought-provoking exploration of Nigeria’s societal challenges, as seen through the discerning lens of one of Africa’s most celebrated literary figures.