You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka

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You Must Set Forth at Dawn Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

You Must Set Forth at Dawn is Soyinka’s fifth book of memoirs, but unlike the previous four it does not limit itself to a relatively confined span of time. This long and dense volume, instead, looks back as far as Soyinka’s earliest days as a university student in London, covering more than fifty years in the theater, in the academy, and in the political world, while avoiding mention of his family life.

The first section of You Must Set Forth at Dawn, placed before the chapters Soyinka labels as “Part I,” is “IBA—For Those Who Went Before,” and it establishes the approach Soyinka takes to the material in this memoir. It opens abruptly, in medias res, as Soyinka is on a plane heading toward Nigeria, remembering past plane trips: his return from exile and his trip to bring back the body of another political exile, his friend Femi Johnson. From here he moves on to an anticipation of and reflection on the loss of cactus in the bush landscape near his home in Abeokuta, and then on to a consideration of the human landscape and its loss of another friend, the late former vice chancellor at the University of Ife, Ojetuni Aboyade. Soyinka moves freely from anecdote to anecdote, from reflection to narrative to dialogue to poetry; the section’s twenty-eight pages are broken up into nine separate episodes. While the body of the book is roughly chronological, the frequent digressions and the references to an African history that the author knows far better than many of his readers makes this a challenging memoir for his non-Nigerian audience.

One of the most interesting features of this volume is Soyinka’s vivid and insightful portraits of several of the national leaders with whom he has interacted, including French president François Mitterrand, Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, and others. As the memoir unfolds, Soyinka describes personal relationships with nearly all of the important figures in the history of Nigeria over the past fifty years. He tells, for example, of his admiration for and friendship with African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela; he relates his...

(The entire section is 518 words.)