The Guardian of the Word

by Camara Laye

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Critical Context

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Laye’s first novel, L’Enfant noir (1953; The Dark Child, 1954), ranks second only to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (1958) in international sales of a work by an African writer. A romantic evocation of what it is like to grow up in a West African village, The Dark Child presents Laye’s strong belief in the importance of retaining traditional values. His next two works to appear, Le Regard du roi (1954; The Radiance of the King, 1956) and Dramouss (1966; A Dream of Africa, 1968), elaborate on this theme. Nevertheless, Laye’s final novel may well contain the richest expression of his philosophy.

In all of his work, Laye attempted to blend European fictional forms with Africa’s oral tradition, rather than depending solely on the realistic approach. He accomplishes this objective in The Guardian of the Word and fulfills as well his desire to preserve traditional culture in the hope that such a record might inspire contemporary Africans as they wrestle with their destiny.

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