Critical Context

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The popularity of The Dark Child established Camara Laye, among Westerners at least, as a notable African voice. His fellow African writers, however, were not always united in praise of the book. The Dark Child portrays a childhood lived under a colonial government. To many critics, his idealistic portrait of a childhood under colonialism was comparable to an American black writing, in 1865, of the joys of his childhood in slavery. Negritude, African consciousness, was the key theme of the day, and Laye did not conform to its attitudes. Laye has commented that there were few whites where he lived; he simply did not feel the oppressions of colonialism as others did. Therefore, conflict in The Dark Child is not between the French and the Guinean, but between two sides of the self. The side of Laye which was destined to leave Africa always seems to dominate. Nostalgia and loss then, not anger, inform his style (though anger was more fashionable).

When Guinea gained its independence in 1958, Laye returned to fill political roles. After seven years, however, he left Guinea for the political reasons detailed in his second autobiographical novel, Dramouss (1966; A Dream of Africa, 1968). His bitterness and lack of distance made this novel a failure as a work of art. His last work, Le Maitre de la parole (1978; The Guardian of the Word, 1984), is more successful. In it, Laye again addresses African history—specifically, where the present Africans might find the seeds of redemption. It appears that Laye’s great strength was his powerful recounting of the virtues of the past. With The Dark Child, he has left a wealth of knowledge and wisdom as well as a moving work of art.

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