CHRONICLES FROM THE LAND OF THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE ON EARTH – Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka is arguably the best writer to come out of Nigeria.  In addition to being an author, playwright, and poet, he’s a political activist.  Openly critical of Nigeria (which resulted in his imprisonment) and the US (he destroyed his green card when Trump was elected), he’s never held back or sugar coated his words.  His works are political, satirical, and expertly crafted.  He is the first Black person to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, and the recently published Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (Pantheon Books, 2021) is his first novel in nearly fifty years.  I am very grateful to have received an advanced copy of the work, and I hate that I didn’t get to it before its pub date.  But here we are.

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is sharp and witty and disjointed and broken.  It’s not an “easy” read by any stretch, but it is phenomenally crafted.  Soyinka is no better than when he is exposing guilt, greed, corruption, and the seedy side of things, and Chronicles lets him paint with both broad and nuanced strokes.

At the heart of the novel is Dr. Menka, who has recently learned that someone is selling body parts stolen from his hospital.  He tells one of his oldest friends, Duyole Pitan-Payne. Duyole has accepted a position at the United Nations and will soon be leaving Nigeria, but they both work to solve the mystery of who is behind the black-market body parts and who is behind the fire that destroyed Dr. Menka’s home and club.

Can they get to the bottom of it before it’s too late? And how far up does the corruption and exploitation go?

The whodunit aspect of the novel stumbles along, at times nearly losing its reader, but it always brings you back.  The novel is worth the struggle.  More importantly, the current that runs between the lines, the one that weeps for the country Soyinka so desperately loves, keeps you grounded and reminds you that literature can change the world.

Be the change.

Let them read.

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