17 April 2018

Camara Laye: L'Enfant noir (1953) | The Dark Child

Laye Camara, much like Osmane Sembène, reversed his forename and surname when he became a writer. Camara Laye writes of Guinea, the country where he was born, and his strongly autobiographical first novel L'Enfant noir (1953) won the Prix Charles Veillon the following year. The first part of the novel takes place in Camara's birthplace, Kouroussa, where his father is a blacksmith.

As is not unusual in many countries, for belief in animism to co-exist with Islam (or other religions). Camara's mother in particular has supernatural gifts – she has, for instance, the ability to master horses, can turn spellmakers tricks back on them, and crocodiles will not attack her. The blacksmith takes a magic potion, and can command silence. Camara is surrounded by a ritualistic atmosphere.

 He has to face two rituals on reaching puberty, of which by far the worst is circumcision, which is supposed to make him a man. Although Laye is almost puritanical about the circumcision ceremony – he doesn't even use the words pénis or prépuce – this section is nevertheless vivid and the 'cure' lasts into the fourth week, separating the adolescent from his family and involving 'healers' to make sure that the patients don't sleep on their side and harm the injured part. Again, there is no specific mention by the author of possible erections forestalling the curing process, although it is quite clear why the boys are not allowed to look at any girls.

Then begins the process of Camara severing himself from his family by education, leaving Kouroussa to study in Conakry where he stays with his uncle's family, succeeding brilliantly and we finally see him leaving for a further education in Paris. A gem.

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