Birthday treat: Five must-read Prof Wole Soyinka books

In celebration of the prolific writer’s 85th birthday, here is a list of his memorable books:

1. The Trials of Brother Jero.

Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero is the first of his three “Jero” plays. The play is a farce that focuses on four characters (Jero, Chume, Amope, and a Member of Parliament) over five scenes. The main character, Jero, is a beach prophet who makes his way by prophesying the futures of other working class people in the vicinity. Chume is a messenger who seeks relief from his shrewish wife Amope and predicts advancement in his career. Amope is a market woman to whom Jero owes money. The Member of Parliament, who appears at the play’s close, is a signal that Jero’s trade is about to have more significant social consequences.
This satire was first produced in 1960 in the University College, Ibadan.

2. The Lion and the Jewel.

One of Soyinka’s first plays in Nigeria, it was performed in 1959 at the Ibadan Arts Theatre. It chronicles how Baroka, the lion, fights with the modern Lakunle over the right to marry Sidi, the titular Jewel. Lakunle is portrayed as the civilized antithesis of Baroka and unilaterally attempts to modernize his community and change its social conventions for no reason other than the fact that he can. The transcript of the play was first published in 1962 by Oxford University Press. Soyinka emphasises the theme of the corrupted African culture through the play, as well as how the youth should embrace the original African culture.

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3. Ake, The Memories of Childhood.

Ake, The Memories of Childhood is a memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and perception–a lyrical account of one boy’s attempt to grasp the often irrational and hypocritical world of adults that equally repels and seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief anecdotes into history lessons, conversations into morality plays, memories into awakenings. Various cultures, religions, and languages mingled freely in the Aké of his youth, fostering endless contradictions and personalized hybrids, particularly when it comes to religion. Christian teachings, the wisdom of the ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of ancestral spirits–who alternately terrify and inspire him–all carried equal metaphysical weight.

Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that “God had a habit of either not answering one’s prayers at all, or answering them in a way that was not straightforward.”

4. Madmen and Specialists.

Madmen and Specialists is a play by Wole Soyinka, conceived in 1970 during his imprisonment in the Civil War. It is considered Soyinka’s most pessimistic play, dealing with “man’s inhumanity and pervasive corruption in structures of power”. The plot concerns Dr. Bero, a corrupt specialist, who imprisons and torments his physician father.

5. Kongi’s Harvest.

Kongi’s Harvest is a 1965 play written by Wole Soyinka. It premiered in Dakar, Senegal, at the first Negro Arts Festival in April 1966. It was later adapted as a film of the same name, directed by the American Ossie Davis. The satire comically shows the degeneration of the potential future.

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