Camara Laye (kah-mah-rah LAH-yeh), a young Guinean boy from a highly respected family of the Malinke people. Although somewhat timid, he is curious, intelligent, affectionate, and sensitive. As he moves from early childhood through adolescence, his advancement through the colonial French school system takes him away from his home in Kouroussa to Conakry (the capital of Guinea) and, finally, sends him to Paris to continue his studies. Through recounting his childhood memories, he seeks to preserve, defend, understand, and, perhaps, mourn the passing of the traditional way of life of his youth. These vignettes include observing his father’s mysterious familiarity with a small, black snake (“the guiding spirit of our race”), watching his father and mother at work, experiencing the seasonal rhythms of his grandmother’s farming village, and participating in various traditional ceremonies of initiation, including that of circumcision. Laye’s departure for Paris at the end of the novel contrasts the anguish of leaving traditional Africa with the attraction of the unfamiliar Western culture.
Camara’s father, a blacksmith, goldsmith, and sculptor. Steeped in the traditional ways of his people, he has powers that can be described only as supernatural. These powers are most clearly seen in his relationship with a small, black snake and in the spirituality,...
(The entire section is 431 words.)