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”The Dark Child” by Camara Laye

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  • Pages: 5
  • Word count: 1204
  • Category: Books

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It has been a long while since I read an autobiography and this one, contrary to most everything else professors have assigned to read, was pretty decent. Camara Laye’s The Dark Child is at first glance your run of the mill coming of age tale, with a few different odds and ends thrown in. After the first few pages though, you begin to realize that it isn’t quite as normal and bland as some of the other required readings you may have been assigned. Whether you are a fan of autobiographies or not, The Dark Child is without a doubt worth your time.

This is something that I thought he did wonderfully; as the book continues and he grows older, his perception and understanding of the world change along with his writing. So while he is writing about when he was a small child, he writes as if he believes what he sees and as the book nears its end, he comments more on the natural and logical as opposed to the supernatural and the impossible. Laye begins his life story at the age of 5 or 6, neither he nor the reader are really sure which it is. He opens with a fictitious aspect to grab the reader; the aspect being a magical snake. His father is a well-known blacksmith by those both near and far. He is held in great esteem. So much so that he is chosen by “the guiding spirit of [his] race,” (24). To be its representative. This enthralls Laye and he grows even more respect and admiration of his father. His mother is also well known for a special ability: she was known for her ability to “see what evil was being hatched and could denounce the author of it, yet her power went no further,” (73). This means that she could sense evil and wrongdoing, call it out, but had no powers to actually cast a harmful spell. This is why the people never feared her, and greatly respected her. She also had abilities such as walking next to alligators without being harmed, due to her totem, and commanding animals to do as she said, i.e. when then horse refused to get up and move until she had told it to.

These are the stories Laye relays to us from when he was a small child. As he grows older he writes about his ventures to his grandmother’s land with his uncles and his school days. The school he attends when he is a little older is a school by any means, but there is great turmoil. Often the older boys pick on the younger ones and while this may be brought to the attention of the director (the principle, headmaster etc.) the older boys would be punished but it would be so overlooked that as soon as they were finished being punished, they would return from their beatings and give them back tenfold to the young boys who told on them. This section is actually one of my favorite parts.

As he grows older, his style changes and he sees the real world as it really is as opposed to his fantasies he had when he was younger. A major development in the story is the actual act of becoming a man. Boys his age have a festival for many days that lead up to their circumcision, after which they become men. After this accomplishment, he still writes about his fears and his thoughts but he is much more wary to keep them to himself. And as he grows even older he moves away from home to attend Technical College for four years. These years change him very much and when he returns home he is much more of an adult and conducts himself in such a manner.

The ending of the book was very disappointing to me. I really enjoyed reading about how his mother was in pure denial and wanted to keep her son near her forever and how his father knew how hard it would be but he also knew that there would never be another opportunity like this for his son. After a family brawl, which was eerily similar to one that I had with my own parents, he is allowed to go to Argenteuil, an outlying city of Paris, France, to finish his studies. This is all good and fine, the part that irritated me was the ending: there wasn’t one! It ended with him sitting on the bus feeling the map in his pocket. Now don’t get me wrong, I understand and appreciate how impactful and significant of a picture this paints, but for me personally, I wanted to see what would happen to him and what he did with himself. For me, that was the greatest, and one of the very few, letdowns of the book.

As I stated previously, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. There were several chapters which I enjoyed even more than the others; one of those chapters was chapter 2, my favorite part of the book. This chapter was all about his father and his craftsmanship with metals, but above all, gold. He is a very young boy when he recalls his father’s brilliance and skill as a blacksmith.

He sits in his father’s shop and marvels at his skill and precision. The way it is described it is almost as though there is a magical quality to the way his father works. The way he strike is so precise and destined to land, the way the go-between would sing of his praise; it was a near godly act. Of course they would never say this in the book; that would be blasphemy. It also is very characteristic of his age. Most children that age look up to their fathers with awe and see them above other men and as the true definition of a man. Laye clearly felt this towards his father.

Never before have I read anything from Guinea. Truth be told, and as ignorant as it truly sounds, I believed Guinea to be in South America. I had never really given it much though. I had never really given much thought to the life and beliefs of the different African villages. The only familiarity I have with that topic is the book Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. Similarly, Things Fall Apart has a coming of age tale; something that I am starting to believe is very important to different African villages. In the U.S. there isn’t a set age where we become a man. We grow facial hair, finish school, get a job, but I would argue that a “man” in the U.S. does not truly become a man to the extent and maturity of Camara Laye until he is in his 30’s. I’m not saying this is everybody, but I would say on average we in the U.S. refuse to grow up. We want to be treated as adults and we want freedom and to do things, but we still want to be able to run back home if we need help, something, I don’t think, that Laye would consider doing.

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