Camara Laye is considered to be one of the most important Guinean writers of the twentieth century. He was born in the relatively remote town of Kouroussa in Upper Guinea to parents of metalworker lineages. In Laye’s autobiographical novel The Dark Child, his father appears as a strong and wise man whose supernatural powers as a smith blend well with his Muslim beliefs; Laye’s mother is depicted as loving, strong in her own right, and a major influence on his life. Laye attended the local Islamic school and the French government primary school before leaving Kouroussa to attend the École Poiret, a technical high school, in Conakry, the capital city of the colony. Against his mother’s wishes, he accepted a government engineering scholarship and completed a professional certificate at the Centre École Automobile near Paris. When the scholarship ended, he supported himself as a mechanic at the Simca car factory while attending evening classes at a technical college.
Living alone, cut off from his family, and suffering from frustration and loneliness, Laye wrote his first work, The Dark Child (called The African Child in a later, less bowdlerized and abridged translation), in an attempt to keep alive his memories of his Guinean childhood. He probably never intended to publish this work, but a French friend encouraged him to show it to a publisher. The novel, released in Paris in 1953, was welcomed by French critics and was awarded the Prix Charles Veillon in 1954. Though it has been criticized by some militant African writers, the novel remains a beautiful account of African village life. It is especially valuable for the warm and sensitive portrait of Laye’s mother.
The financial success of The Dark Child allowed Laye to complete his second novel, The Radiance of the King, in 1954....
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