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The African Child

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3.68  ·  Rating details ·  1,467 ratings  ·  127 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, 159 pages
Published 1980 by Longman (first published January 1st 1954)
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3.68  · 
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 ·  1,467 ratings  ·  127 reviews


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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
Nov 02, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 b
...more
Susan Denney
Nov 18, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Book Wormy
Jan 04, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Dark Child Camara Laye
★★★★

This is the autobiographical account of the authors experience growing up in a village in French Guinea. Laye shares his childhood with the reader in an open and frank way, he lets us into his family, into his village and into his way of life. Layes childhood is an interesting mix of spiritual traditions and formal religion mixed together in a way that works and that doesn't appear disjointed.

An almost poetical story of one boy's childhood this is a read that would
...more
Anita Pomerantz
This memoir is an enjoyable read that is a picturesque coming of age story set in Africa. It's simply told without artifice or tremendous elaboration. We follow Laye's story as he is raised by his loving parents, attends primary school, falls for his first love, and finally becomes a man through a ritual circumcision. Unfortunately, the book ends on a bittersweet note and left me wanting more. Nicely rendered, but not likely to be memorable.
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!
Janelle Bouman
First book I've read entirely in French, which I'm pretty proud of. It was an easy enough read for someone with 3-4 years of language experience.
Elena De temmerman
Fuck this fucking shit bruh
Ellen
Smooth, leisurely read about a young man's childhood and education in Guinea. Tinges of the supernatural balanced with the universal.
Moses Kilolo
Apr 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Eadie
This was a fascinating memoir of the author's youth growing up in the village of Koroussa, French Guinea. It shows the simple life of a dark child living in the great plain of Guinea. It is a very readable account as his words are rich with sincerity which flows through his language. He wrote this account while attending school in Paris and it is very evident that he was missing his homeland very much. I would recommend this book highly as I found his detailed account of the 'ceremony of the lio ...more
Patrick Robitaille
***

A coming-of-age novel, outlining how it was to grow up as a boy in Guinea back in the 30s and 40s. There were several little interesting aspects to this novel, such as the combination of traditional rites within an Islamic environment. But in terms of novels addressing the passage from a colonial/tribal state to the integration into a "civilized"/occidental society, I think that Achebe and Dangaremgba were much better. Cute, but not really exciting.
Kristel

This is a good book, a memoir, Camara Laye tells us about his youth in Guinea. He shares with us the culture, family structure, spirituality of his people and his trip towards his own destiny. He wrote this book when he was in his twenties and studying engineering in France. He died in Senegal in 1980.
Lukerik
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The 1959 British edition is something of a record of social change. According to the copyright page it was first published in English as The Dark Child, avoiding an exact translation of the French L'Enfant Noir. I would image this is because it was considered offensive to call someone black. Turning to the back cover we find the author referred to as a negro. That would raise a few eyebrows today. Now turning to the blurbs we have this from the BBC:

“He combines the dignity and simplicity of his
...more
Jennifer
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: french, grad-school
I read this for my African Francophone lit class and I believe it was a good introduction to the subject. While others may have been bored by the monotony of the novel, I found it to be interesting, simply because the entire setting was new for me. I have (I'm ashamed to admit it) read very little by African authors and was intrigued by the day to day explanations Laye provided.

In class, we did cover criticism of the novel and one of the critiques is that: 'it was a little too good to be true.'
...more
Justin Kiel
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In an African literature course in college, this was one of my favorite books we read, and I have really appreciated it more over time. According to my professor, Camara Laye never really intended to publish it when he first began writing the book, it was to ground himself in his childhood and sense of home and people while living abroad in France.

As such, this is not a plot-heavy or story-driven book in a traditional sense, it is a delightfully slow and gentle paced coming of age and slice-of-
...more
Frank
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a quick and interesting read; the only reason I did not rate it wrk 5-stars was due to its uneventful lack of rising action or introspection in the chapters describing his school years—which, I understand were formative for him, but dull to the reader even as a piece of cultural information—and the abruptness of the final chapter.

The first chapter is by far the best in my opinion. It stands alone as an excellent short story, a piece for an introduction to African Literature, and impress
...more
Molly
May 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
An enjoyable coming of age story about Camara Laye's childhood in French Guinea. Laye takes you through a lot of critical milestones in his life in just a few pages. I didn't realize how much ground he was covering and how quickly he was doing it until I was about 75% through the book. Laye slows down to add detail when it matters and doesn't bog down the story with unnecessary information in other places. The setting makes Laye's life interesting because it is unique and simultaneously undersco ...more
Andy
read for 2018 Irish Meridians Challenge

really enjoyed

autobiographical, boyhood tales in Guinea in the 30s and 40s
enjoyed the simplicity of the account, worked well with the lifestyle and culture described

touched on village life and agricultural practice, family, rites of passage, superstitions and education

most of the other characters are lightly sketched, outside Camara, his mother and father

interesting social structure with polygamy, but little detail on his father's other wives, or his siblin
...more
Bongani Ncube-Zikhali
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Barbara Chase
Jun 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book for any French student looking to enter the realm of French literature. This is a student edition, with notes and discussion questions in French.
The story is a memoir by Camara Laye of his childhood in Guinée, growing up in a world full of rich African traditions, customs, family ties, and beliefs, contrasted with his drive to obtain a modern education. Wonderful, warm look into a world where ancient customs still enrich the lives of so many.
Patty Weiser
Really liked the first chapter and the third. There were fragments in other chapters I really loved and I thought the ending paragraph was very effective. So it really is 2 1/2 stars with parts up to 4. There was a slight anthropological feel to some of the writing that took away from the memoir aspect.

Sally
The author looks back on his upbringing in Guinea; his father was a metal-worker and village headman, and he recalls a largely happy and much loved childhood... and yet, as an academic child, always the knowledge that he won't be making his life there.
Hilario
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A simple and yet powerful life story that portrays achievement, as seen through the author's eyes, at a time when the African continent is still young. An endless thrill that ensures the reader keeps yearning for more...
Modiegi
Jun 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Pleasant read. The type of book I want everyone to read. I, perhaps because am also African, could relate to many of the events that took place in the book.
Michael Podlasek Kent
... the temporary highways of exile... (p. 178)
Michelline Palmeira
I'd give it 6 stars if I could.
Jenna
Nov 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved how the author was so close to his family and culture.
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Reading 1001: The Dark Child by Camera Laye 1 4 Aug 22, 2019 04:18PM  

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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
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