Soyinka, Wole (Vol. 5)
Soyinka, Wole 1934–
A Nigerian playwright, novelist, translator, and poet, Soyinka brings to his work a balance of both African and European influences. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
What marks Soyinka and Armah so strongly is their unwillingness to fall back on the past as a solution for present-day social and political problems, and their interest, instead, in the current-day scene, the immediate. When Soyinka's drama, A Dance of the Forests, was presented at the Nigerian Independence celebrations in 1960, it, indeed, denigrated the glorious African past and warned Nigerians and all Africans that their energies henceforth should be spent trying to avoid repeating the mistakes that have already been made. Kongi's Harvest (Soyinka's last play prior to the Nigerian Civil War) was a scathing condemnation of the recklessness of post-independent African political leaders, and Soyinka's two years in prison during the Nigerian Civil War typify the renewed political concern of the African writer as critic of his own independent society. (pp. 244-45)
In the novels by Wole Soyinka and Ayi Kwei Armah there is one further marked distinction: the isolated individual is often the would-be artist, and the works by these two novelists are concerned with the pressing problem of the place of the artist in the independent African nation, the status and future of the intellectual who wants to be an artist only and not an appendage to the government and a part-time creator. (pp. 245-46)
The Interpreters, Wole Soyinka's only novel,… is one of the most impressive pieces of African fiction published in the last few years, and at the same time one of the most obscure African novels. The obscurity, however, is not due to culturally restricted materials. At the time of its publication, there was no precedent in African writing for this kind of work at all, and the critics were confronted with something totally different from what they had seen before. The Interpreters has no plot in a conventional sense; there is no real beginning or ending to Soyinka's story. The movement of the narrative instead of being temporal is figural, through space, and the pattern within the novel itself is based on a montage-like repetition of images, piled up on top of one another, overlapping upon one another, suggesting the works of Robbe-Grillet but only in the most generalized way. There is no conflict in the traditional sense of the well-made story; little, if anything, has been resolved by the end of the novel, and one has the impression that the arrangement of the scenes within the book itself could have been considerably different than it is without noticeably altering the impact or the meaning of the work itself. The fact that Soyinka is a playwright and a poet is apparent throughout much of the novel. Instead of basing his narrative on the orderly progression of events leading toward a suggested goal, Soyinka has given his narrative form and pattern by the repetition of certain scenes and images which are used as leitmotifs and short playlets incorporated into the texture of the novel. Soyinka's dialogue is especially effective and shows the influence of his years of work as a playwright. Many of the scenes read as if they were originally conceived as short plays and later incorporated into the novel.
Satire and social commentary are present in almost every incident of The Interpreters, and it is these aspects which especially relate Soyinka's only novel with Armah's two works, though Soyinka is not yet as bitter as Armah, nor as he himself is later, in his play Madmen and Specialists, written after the Nigerian Civil War. (pp. 246-47)
Technically, the structure is something altogether different from that of any previous African novels, with much more experimentation (in a Western sense) than in Camara Laye's Le regard du roi or even James Ngugi's A Grain of Wheat . At times, this obscurity is more harmful than beneficial to the novel itself, and it...
(The entire section is 1,844 words.)