For a long time, after I’d tried to read Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood as a thirteen-year-old in secondary school—and failed—I’d had my eye on his work. It became my personal challenge: to one day read a Soyinka book, understand it, and plant my flag on that mountain. It would take me five years to build up just enough confidence to search through my family’s library for a Soyinka piece. I found The Man Died.
The Man Died is Soyinka’s account of his twenty-seven-month imprisonment at the hands of the Nigerian government (beginning around the time the country was plunging into severe civil chaos). Perhaps because of his extensive periods in solitary confinement, the book is intensely personal. You are taken and tucked so deep into his mind that by the time you finally lift your eyes from the pages, the realization that there indeed exists a realm beyond the trappings of Soyinka’s reasoning and musings and observations is disorienting.
What most impressed me about this book was not that a great portion of it was penned between the lines of the scant collection of books he was able to get his hands on in prison (though that blew my mind); nor was it the vertigo of flirting with the hinterlands of madness along with him (which, by the by, he was very aware of). It was the fact that through everything, Soyinka managed to maintain his dry, intellectual humor. Well…I should say through most things. There were times, like when he met the Lizard Man (whose name was appropriate because of the ridges and lacerations on his back from being tied down and flogged every day by the guards), that Soyinka stepped back and mourned and could only taste bitter things.
Not only is this book a man’s disassembling and reassembling of himself, and his struggle to maintain sanity; it is also a glimpse into Nigeria’s days of tumultuous infancy. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is fascinated by the human mind, human resilience, and determination to survive.
Bio: Adaeze Elechi is an intern at Guernica. Read her last recommendation “here”:https://www.guernicamag.com/blog/1167/staff_pick_adaeze_elechi_2/.