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L'enfant noir

3.58 of 5 stars 3.58  ·  rating details  ·  777 ratings  ·  63 reviews
This book is a distinct and graceful memoir of Camara Laye's youth in the village of Koroussa, French Guinea, a place steeped in mystery. Laye marvels over this mother's supernatural powers, his father's distinction as the village goldsmith, and his own passage into manhood, which is marked by animistic beliefs and bloody rituals of primeval origin.
Paperback, 220 pages
Published September 13th 2007 by Plon (first published 1953)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,937)
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Beth
Recently I’ve found myself reading a number of memoirs by authors who grew up in various parts of Africa. This one stands out as unique, mostly because it is so unremarkable. There’s no civil war, no violence, no rape. The only bloody scenes are those describing ritual circumcision, and even these showed a communal event of initiation and coming-of-age rather than an act of brutality (as in other books that address the subject). Injustice in society never came forward as a theme. To be honest, i ...more
Andrew
This is a fairly short and simple autobiographical account of a boy growing up in Guinea in the 1930s and 40s. Camara Laye wrote it in 1954 while studying in France, and you can feel the nostalgia for his homeland. Although the writing style is quite understated, the emotion is communicated quite effectively, and it’s very moving in places.

As the title suggests, the book only deals with his childhood, and it is faithful to a child’s outlook on the world. At the start, his entire world is the ver
...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
Not much happens in this gentle, sentimental little book, but it’s a pleasant read all the same. There seems to be some disagreement about whether The Dark Child is a memoir or an autobiographical novel; my library shelves it as nonfiction, though given the abundant dialogue, the author clearly took some creative license.

Either way, it’s a nicely-written coming-of-age story of a boy from in a traditional village in Guinea in the 1930s and 40s. There are no atrocities, no violence (except from bu
...more
Susan Denney
Nov 18, 2011 Susan Denney rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: French speakers interested in African culture.
I used several chapters of this book in my 4AP French classes. I have read the book many times. The book has an outlook which is unique. Camara Laye has a foot in two worlds. We see him as a boy in the villages of his father and grandmother. He opens a window for us into a world where spirits reside in every living thing and where a snake can speak and share knowledge with the leader of a clan.

He also shows us his introduction to European science-based culture. And even though the two worlds see
...more
Moses Kilolo
I have always heard of Camara Laye, but never really got to read any of his writing till now. I'm glad I did. This book, detailing the earlier part of his life in the French Gambia is simply amazing. Its writing is brilliant, and there is no doubt it is a book to last. So sad that I still don't know much about what happened from the time he went to France for further education, but Im going to find out. Its similarity to Ngugi's book is that education is given a focal point in his dreams and des ...more
Jen
This is a wonderful little book. Why it is on the 1001 books to read list is a mystery to me - I thought that was meant to be a list of novels but this is clearly a childhood memoir.

The storytelling is unapologetically sentimental and extremely touching. It is refreshing to read an account of an African childhood not defined by war, the slave trade, famine, or other atrocities. This is a story of family love, deeply entrenched culture and custom, and the pull of a shrinking world in the early /
...more
Elise
This book, which I read in one sitting, will always be close to my heart. I identified so much with Camara Laye because of my own firsthand experience of leaving my childhood home post-Katrina, during the time of the New Orleans diaspora. His detailed, slice of life account of the enchanting lives of Muslims in the village of Kouroussa(Guinea--French Africa) was very moving. I can't wait to discuss it in my "Literature of the African Diaspora" class!
Maryann
This is a memoir of a boy growing into a man in a small village in Guinea. It is simply told and recounts some of the superstition and ritual that those of us who know nothing more than what we saw in National Geographic magazine when we were children think of as "African". Laye tells his story with dignity and grace, but reserved emotion. At just under 200 pages, it's a short book and easy to read. I don't feel that I gained much from reading it, however.

Food: goat stew over rice. It's tasty e
...more
Aurelie
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nina Chachu
A student returned this book - she's one of our really consistent borrowers - and I realized that I had never read this classic autobiographical account of a childhood in Guinea. It was a quick read, helped by having time during my car-less commute. It is a bit idyllic, but then that is to be expected, as it is looking back from adult-hood. But it does bring up the most important events for one child. Although it is now more than sixty years since it was first published, it is deservedly known a ...more
Frumenty
This autobiographical novel went out into the world (in 1953) like an ambassador to the French for a francophone African colony. It presents Guinean culture with dignity and affection, and much colourful detail. Laye is at pains to make his readers see beyond apparently strange customs and beliefs and appreciate a shared humanity. This he does well. The book could justly be called a work of propaganda, but worth reading (and quite short) for all that. Such has been its success that it has been a ...more
Andrew
This is a fairly short and simple autobiographical account of a boy growing up in Guinea in the 1930s and 40s. Camara Laye wrote it in 1954 while studying in France, and you can feel the nostalgia for his homeland. Although the writing style is quite understated, the emotion is communicated quite effectively, and it's very moving in places.

As the title suggests, the book only deals with his childhood, and it is faithful to a child's outlook on the world. At the start, his entire world is the ver
...more
Briana
Laye's brevity and elusiveness on the day to day affairs of his childhood were the biggest failures of the memoir. Written as an explanatory presentation of life in Guinea for the French reader, Laye stresses the humanity his people, the Malinke, to refute the continuing portrayal of Africans as savages during the last decades of colonialism. Even understanding all of this, Laye does not engage the reader to get inside of his head as a child. Throughout, we are given intimations that he somehow ...more
Jonathan Widell
In this novel, the author takes us to the African village of his childhood. Ever since (I don't know when) people in the west or north have used some relatively primitive society to reflect their own society. Sometimes, those "alien" societies are populated by noble savages, such as in Rousseau's romantic view of the noble savage. Sometimes that fairly simple formula is broken by more challenging approaches, such as in William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, where British boys turned into savag ...more
Nathaniel
In the first 90 pages of this book, the great drama involves influential parents intervening to stop schoolyard bullying and in the second 90 pages of this book, the great drama involves the foreskin being chopped from the author's penis. ("Later on, I went through an ordeal much more frightening than Konden Diara, a really dangerous ordeal, and no game: circumcision." Oh my god!!)

And in case you were worried that your pulse might slow in the dying chapters of the "novel," in the last fifteen p
...more
Gary Sudeth
Nov 19, 2014 Gary Sudeth rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in learning about life in an African village in the 30's and 40's
Recommended to Gary by: Footnote in "The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200" by Colin Morris
An easy read written about a young man from Kourassa, Guinea, who grew up in the late 30's and 40's, describing the cultural experiences of the inland peoples of Guinea, his place, and departure in his early 20's for the world outside.

This is regarded as a good example of African writing. What this points out is the dearth of quality literature emanating from Africa. While it is reasonably well-written, and the author is a likeable sort, it is not great literature.
Rojo
The only thing that I have to say about this book is that Camara Laye and I have the same mother (maybe it's just an African mom thing, though).

That's actually not all I have to say. This book is...something else. It reads fairly quickly and all the questions that Laye asks himself in text just makes it so much more personal rather than all the other autobiographies that I've read where there no feeling or story. This was a story, and a great one at that. I have never related to an author so muc
...more
Lesleylarson
I first attempted this autobiography in French, when on a Study Abroad in West Africa. In English this time, my own African experience was rediscovered in the description of this boy's childhood in Kouroussa, French Guinea. Though it is a true autobiography, it reads more like a novel -- a story of the coming of age of any African boy.

It delivers a taste of cultural customs, religious rites, and a certain manner of conversation that is formal, yet interested, that I also observed while in West A
...more
Lesleylarson
I first attempted this autobiography in French, when on a Study Abroad in West Africa. In English this time, my own African experience was rediscovered in the description of this boy's childhood in Kouroussa, French Guinea. Though it is a true autobiography, it reads more like a novel -- a story of the coming of age of any African boy.

It delivers a taste of cultural customs, religious rites, and a certain manner of conversation that is formal, yet interested, that I also observed while in West A
...more
Lisa
Beautifully, simply written. The simplicity offers a clarity and a beauty that is rare. Story of a young boy growing up to a certain point in his home village, then moving on to the capital city and then, he is given the chance to go to France -- which his mother is gravely set against.
Darcy Conroy
No excuses or literary conceit in this review. This is more of a descriptive essay than a memoir, as the author tells us the events of his childhood but avoids offering any insight. The author also witholds description in many places giving as his excuse that he was too young and so did not understand, but one cannot help but notice that most of these instances concern the uses of traditional magic by his family and that, perhaps, he was avoiding shaming them, or himself - devout Mohammedans (hi ...more
Chris
If you are interested in learning about West African culture this would be a good place to start. I don't remember all of it as well as I'd like (I read it for a class and not for pleasure, always makes remembering it a little harder for me), but overall it was interesting as it was a culture I knew very little about. Glad I read it.
Melinda
Short, dense memoir of a boy growing up in Guinea and leaving his tribal world for school in France. I liked the details -- the way he described the harvest in his grandmother's village of Tindican, the details of the public ceremony preceding the circumcision (where the older boys act as guiding "lions"), and the writer's exploration of Conakry where he is sent to school and views the sea for the first time. Another memorable detail for me is when his mother gives him an "elixir" to drink each ...more
Gregory Mose
This is a beautiful account of a childhood in eastern Guinea in the 1930s. From watching his father smelt gold and make jewelry to undergoing the traditional Malinke circumcision ritual, Camara tells of his adventures with frankness and humor, and manages to evoke a world and a way of life now all but lost. I give it three stars only because it is a slow read, and many readers who do not have a particular interest in Africa will find it rather dull. But if the subject is your cup of tea, this bo ...more
Liz
Sep 14, 2008 Liz rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Dan Belongia
Recommended to Liz by: David Newbury
Shelves: class
A classic African biography that was published for native Africans. It is a story of how modernism and village life collide to change lives. This books is a translation, so a lot is lost. However, it is a good biography to read when considering how someone chooses to narrate their own life. Also, colonialism may not be blatantly present in this book, but the aftermath of it is. I would recommend reading this book without a huge history about Guinea-Conakry. Because then you can think about what ...more
Pierre Fortier
Petit livre sans danger qui passe très mal l'épreuve du temps, celui d'un jeun africain passé dans son village à grandir. Décalage. Aujourd'hui, devant la mondialisation, "L'enfant noir" n'a plus rien d'exotique et de nouveau. On se demande pourquoi il se retrouve dans les 1001 livres à lire dans sa vie.
Quiet
The Dark Child is a good book. It tells you about the main events taking place during his life.Most of the events ive read if mostly happy like when he see his father crafting something or when he helped his uncle during the ceremony.Also sad though when the older kids were picking on him and his friends because they were younger and pretty much powerless but i will continue reading this book and see what will happen.Overall though its a amazing book.
Don
One of may favourite novels, and a classic of Francophone African literature. A wonderful story, which allows us a glimpse into a time when things were the way they used to be, at least for a little while longer. Nostalgic, perhaps. The seemingly more traditional and innocent days of yore have been recorded here, as well the the author's transition into the modern world - a worthwhile journey.
mao
Bildungsroman of the joyous and mysterious transformations of Laye. I love his attempt to make sense of eternal recommencement, in that it introduces, with each departure from our past, a continuous distancing of ourselves from our pasts, which for Laye is at work in the process of intellectual engagement, of rigorous and passionate study of the world affecting us at every moment of the way.
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71279
During his time at college he wrote The African Child (L'Enfant noir), a novel based loosely on his own childhood. He would later become a writer of many essays and was a foe of the government of Guinea. His novel The Radiance of the King (Le Regard du roi) is considered to be one of his most important works.

He was born Malinke (a Mandé speaking ethnicity) into a caste that traditionally worked as
...more
More about Camara Laye...
The Radiance of the King The African Child The Guardian of the Word =: Kouma Lafolo Kouma Le Maitre de la Parole A Dream of Africa

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