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You Must Set Forth at Dawn: A Memoir Paperback – March 13, 2007


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375755144
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375755149
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In this engrossing follow-up to his acclaimed childhood memoir, Aké, the Nigerian poet, playwright and Nobel laureate demonstrates what it means to be a public intellectual. Soyinka revisits a tumultuous life of writing and political activism, from his student days in Britain through his struggles, sometimes from prison or exile, against a succession of Nigerian dictatorships. Soyinka may be on a first-name basis with almost every major Nigerian figure and he's sometimes involved in high-level intrigues; his chronicle of political turmoil is very personal, full of sharply drawn sketches of comrades and foes, and cantankerous rejoinders to critics. His novelistic eyewitness accounts of repression and upheaval widen out from time to time to survey the humiliation and corruption of Nigerian society under military rule. Soyinka also includes recollections of friends and family, of sojourns abroad with W.H. Auden and other literati and of stage triumphs and fiascoes. His lyrical evocations of African landscapes, the urban nightmare of Lagos, the horrors of British cuisine and the longing a dusty fugitive feels for a cold beer will entertain and educate readers. By turns panoramic and intimate, ruminative and politically resolute, Soyinka's memoir is a dense but intriguing conversation between a writer and his times. (Apr. 18)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Early in this memoir, Soyinka, the Nobel-winning playwright, says that he is "a closet glutton for tranquillity." The account that follows details a decidedly untranquil life of activism, imprisonment, and exile over the past half century. In 1956, as a Nigerian student in England, Soyinka considered joining the Hungarian uprising against the Soviets, thinking it a "perfect rehearsal" for future African insurgencies, but his father advised, "Kindly return home and make this your battlefield." The bulk of the book concerns Soyinka's struggles against one corrupt Lagos administration after another, shedding light on the outsize characters of African politics. Along the way, Soyinka recalls how once, in Venice, W. H. Auden tried to pass him off as an African prince, and reveals that, after winning the Nobel Prize, he came down with writer's block, "overwhelmed by the futility of everything I had ever done."
Copyright © 2006 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jimi Oke on November 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is my first taste of Soyinka's work, except for the few scenes of "The Lion and The Jewel" I gleaned many years ago.

I haven't read many autobiographies, but this is without question one of the best I have read. Solidly written, with a plethora of hilarious, as well as sobering anecdotes, and a masterful deployment of literary devices, this, surely is a chef-d'oeuvre. However, this book is not only an autobiography but an excellent historical account of Nigeria's political history since independence in 1960.

Catapulted right into the middle of the action and intrigue that took hold of the nation, I learned new things and gained a lot of useful insight into how the nation became to be what it is today and the various roles of those involved in shaping its destiny.

I grabbed this book because I wanted to learn more about the history of my country from the mouth of a seasoned literary figure. I was astounded to discover that he was completely involved in the struggle right from the beginning. What is more, I was rewarded with a distinctive literary style and all the rewards it brings - new vocabulary, new expressions, and more knowledge.

And I completely disagree with those who complain that Soyinka is too wordy and dawdles over many unnecessary details before getting to the real thing. What real thing are they searching for, anyway? This, after all, is a memoir. Moreover, every page, every word was an absolute treat.

Of course, I do not necessarily agree with all his ideologies, but his honest style through which he sometimes seems to contradict himself, is but a true reflection of how the human mind works.

Highly recommended, and you can be sure to be rewarded with far more than you intially expected at the end of this book.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Hedzoleh on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Soyinka skilfully offers refreshing glimpses into his life as a humble, honest and courageous individual. He is deeply spiritual but definitely not a holier-than-thou prude. Soyinka's infectious enjoyment of life comes across in his passion for hunting, wine, music, art and, of course, women. It seems that it is this enduring appreciation of the immense possibilities of life that drives his resistance to dictatorship and systems that seek to rob the individual of the opportunity to partake in the sacrement of life. The man, his art and his politics are inseperable.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Crown on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Soyinka, masterfully uses his life as a running commentary for the state of political affairs in Nigeria since 1960. While the book does speak on a lot of serious issues there are many moments of hilarity such as when W.H Auden passes him off as an African Prince and the quest to recover an acient mask that led Mr. Soyinka to Brazil.

Mr. Soyinka's style tends to be a little heavy on grammar but overall it is a great book, one that I am happy to have bought.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Uzo Dibia on November 18, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I disagree with all those who think this is an exercise, by the author, in self aggrandisement and hubris.Far from it, this is an old man telling the story, or some stories, of the often turbulent and privileged life he has lived.To say the book is boring is an unfair comment by those who may seem threatened by Soyinka's word prowess.

I have enjoyed all Soyinka's prose more than his poetry, and even drama( the beatification of area boy comes to mind)in some cases.However,I have always seen it as a necessity to arm oneself with a dictionary when attempting a Soyinka work.He makes no apologies for his use of hifaluting words; the imagery invoked at times is most beautiful and at others , it is lost on the reader as it is totally incomprehensible.In that respect, I do sympathise with a lot of readers.I too have struggled to grasp certain concepts, and to undertsand his use of certain terms.Having said this, my diction and imagination have become the better for it.

This book is well written, but there is a lack of coherence in the chapters -one idea set forth in one area is so far removed from its predecessor or successor.Also, a lot of what he has written has been mentioned, allbeit, cursorily, in his other works-The Man Died, Ibadan:The Penkelemes Years.Did he really need to rehash the same things? Maybe and maybe not. A lot of people who are not too familiar with the development of Nigeria may not readily appreciate the social dynamics and certain characters mentioned in the book. I guess I have had the (dis)honour of having lived in some of the turbulent times and am familiar with a lot of the villains as told through Soyinka's eyes.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By won on January 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What more can I write. Prof. Soyinka is a master of the English language, civil rights crusader,poet, Theatre Director and naturalist.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lanre Ogundimu on June 8, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I expected a master piece from a mastermind in You Must Set Forth at Dawn, and I was not disappointed. Indeed, I got value for the money and time I spent on this engaging memoir by Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka.

The author has been one of the prominent actors in the political and socio-economic journey of Nigeria. He was a leading player in the western Nigeria uprising of 1964-65 in which he hijacked a radio station in Ibadan. He was active in the Nigerian civil war, for which he was imprisoned. And he was a thorn in the flesh of several military and democratic rulers in Nigeria.

However, the book is not only about Soyinka's political battles and rascality particularly in Nigeria and Africa, but also about his core beliefs, such as justice, freedom, honor, and merit. And he is passionate about true friendship, as illustrated by his profuse dedication and homage to a late friend, Olufemi Babington Johnson (OBJ).

Soyinka is intellectually mischievous and intelligently deviant. The book is filled with riveting episodes and anecdotes about his student days in England; acquaintance with literary giants, including British philosopher Bertrand Russell; falling in love with a dancer in Havana, Cuba; clandestine diplomatic shuttles around the world; dinners with world leaders in many countries, including with Nelson Mandela and Francois Mitterrand in Paris; an encounter with President Bill Clinton; and a quiet lunch in Israel with Shimon Peres, when he was no longer Israeli Prime Minister.

However, as I read the book, these words continue to ring in my head: Whose spy is Wole Soyinka? Which foreign governments are his paymasters? His connection with security agents is mystifying.
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