The African Child (by Camara Laye)

The African Child by Camara Laye

The African Child by Camara Laye

The book, originally written in French by Camara Laye under the title “l’enfant noir” in 1954 (the dark child), was translated by James Kirkup.

In The African Child, Laye describes life, growing up as an African child in Guinea, West Africa. Deeply nostalgic, the book is an autobiography portraying a vision of Islamic and ancient African community in the pre colonial era, a time when tradition engendered mutual understanding and respect for all.

Laye grows up in an environment where he is greatly loved. Both his parents have something supernatural about them. His father is a Malinke by tribe, and a blacksmith who makes ornaments out of gold, inspired by the power of a black snake, which visits him in his dreams and daily life.

His mother, too, has special powers. One time, she is called to help a horse get back to its feet. As if by magic, the horse rises up after she says a few words to it. His mother is of another clan whose totem is the crocodile. While people fear to fetch water from the river infested with crocodiles, she does so and none touches her.

Laye grows up alternating homes between Tindican and Kouroussa. In Tindican, where his mother’s home village, he lives with his grandmother. There he and his age mates watch over the fields, harvest rice and graze animals. Laye starts school, first in a Moslem school and then at a French school. He is fond of one girl, Fanta, a friend of his sister’s. At one point, Laye and his friend Koyate are bullied by the big boys at school but that comes to an end when his father beats up the headmaster.

Away from school, Laye undergoes circumcision, a key ritual in many parts of Africa signifying the passage into manhood. For Laye, the circumcision transforms him into a grown man, and he begins to stay in his own hut.

At fifteen, Laye leaves home for Conakry, Guinea’s capital, to pursue a course in technical studies. He stays with his uncle Mamadou, and his two aunts. Every holiday he goes back home. In his third year of technical college, he wins a scholarship to France.

Laye is extremely sad to leave his country, his family, and his girl friend Marie.

The African Child (published in the US as The Dark Child) is a great read, and is recognized as one of the best novels to come out of French-speaking Africa. The book won the Prix Charles Veillon writing prize.


  1. Kerry says

    When I was a Peace corps volunteer in northern Nigeria in 1970, teaching English to 8th grade boys who had been sent by thier villages to study in a high school in the big city (Maiduguri), I set aside the British chosen literature and picked up The African Child. Since I only had the one book (from the Peace corps), I read it to my students. They were enthralled. They did not know there was literature about them (sound familiar?). At times the classroom was awash in tears, theirs and mine.

    • Daniel Musiitwa says

      Kerry, thanks for sharing. Your story inspired my post for this week. It is important that African children get exposed to books by African authors, as well as the literature from other parts of the world. Sometimes, that balance is lost.

    • says

      I think I’m among those student u I’m nw a graduate of kaduna polytechnic HND dPt of library science.I tink u r d reason dat makes me tink always of dis book.tanx

  2. Tony Zurlo says

    I’ve used Laye’s autobiography for many years in my African/Asian lit class. It is indeed a wonderful presentation of the complexity and dimensions of African life that many “Westerners” fail to see because of headline history.

  3. Nakayiza Olivia says

    The African Child is a fantastic novel for the African children, because it describes the life of an African child from childhood to early adulthood. I admit that when I was given the task of teaching it in ordinary level, i was discouraged, since it looked boring, but later i picked interest. Indeed, “IT IS A MUST READ.”

  4. Wobu Paul Taiwo says

    African Child by Camera Laye gave me a real vision of myself as a young child growing up under the roof of scavengers people(of my own).Though the justice cannot be pass without come to a reality.Yes, people suffer alot in this world. But,to those scholars I worship for their brilliant works reminding people what will likely happen at the end of this cancer-worm harem.

    wobu taiwo

  5. Ajayi Tolulope Jacob says

    The African Child, I fell in love with the book the first time I red it & I’ve red it 13 times. The book relates with my childhood somehow, just as if it was written on my behalf. I remember a particularly place where the author wrote “…but we were singing, always singing. Ah! How happy we were in those days.”

  6. dolapo says

    The African child was 1 of d recommended text 4 me n school bn an English studnt.I fnd it borin d frst day i pikd it bt it bcame ntrestn as time goes by.Camara laye did a gd work n dt text.

      • says


  7. Dennis Nyabera says

    The African Child is a novel for the African children especially students, because it describes the life of an African child from childhood to early adulthoodand the environment around which african children grow and how it influences their later adult lives.The African Child is a Must read for any african student of literature

  8. Davey says

    This is a story of romantic nostalgia. Very crucial for those who have been alienated from their African identity.

  9. Imad says

    I read the Afican Child book when I was in intermediate shool> It is a really very nice book and simply written.

    Emad Al- Khair Bashair (from Sudan – live in the Jazeara state)

  10. Anselm u. Gilbert says

    I read the african child @ the age of thirtheen, no book by an african has so far sparked my inerest as this.

  11. Maria Onyekachukwu Diamond says

    My lecturer gave me an assignment in a course titled “Contemporary African Novel“. And i am to discuss the literary tools African writers uses in communicating the African experience to the world with reference to three novels from different part of the African continent. And the first book that does a perfect justice to that question is CAMARA LAYE‘S “THE AFRICAN CHILD“. It is a great book.

  12. says

    The African Child novel greatly inspired me.Here was an african child intellectually endowed ,from the obscurity of his remote village making it big academically.The last part of the novel really inspired me,Camara on the plane going to France to study! I longed for that moment as well.Luckily the moment came and i savored every moment of my academic conquest just like camara did.HE INSPIRED ME TO STUDY.

  13. H.baudouin says

    i am in i find african literature as the most delicious ingredient that challenges the world. i happened to meet some Americans doing literature from Shawney University and i asked them how they consider african literature and said that they are very interesting in that they contain various life experience along with the style both used in African context. i think that our children have to be taught more about Africa as a yardstick to further development.

  14. H.baudouin says

    i’d also like anybody who might know its analysis, just tell me the following key elements of the book: emergent themes, aspects of style and language use, characters and characterization,plot , point of view and setting as well. is it socially relevant to the present? which moral lesson can u draw from it that can contribute to african issues of today? hope a positive feedback from u(readers). thx


    I would like to thank so much this “African Child,Camala lay “for this great novel with the special message to all African literature Students and even White literature Students.We,Africans,let us respect our values(virtues),norms,….by imitating these grandfathers Writers.E.g:Camala Lay,Ngugi Wa Thiongo,Leopold S. Sanghol etc

    Thank you!!!


    I am the one of International Students from Bishop Barham University ,my Native country is Rwanda.
    After reading this Great Novel “African Child (L’enfant Noir )”,I would like to encourage that every African poeple,we, Africans, let us maintain our culture as the Special Gift from our Maker.( Solidarity,Social Actions,…..).These,will make our brighter future for the next generation.

  17. faith asherura says

    African child is a very interesting novel that left me puzzled after reading it not untill i realised its goodness

  18. Eugenia Ojukwu says

    The African Child by Camara Laye is really an interesting and motivational novel,and a must read for all literature students. After reading the book,i feel like being a writer someday,and that i will strive to achieve. Thanks to all African writers.

  19. Nana Somah says

    I am thank to god for this book reason is that; its point out many reasons why, how, and when children was treated in Africa one point in time. may his soul ever be remember by any one who real this book. the voice of a son of Liberia, an Artist & Engineer in Architectural science

  20. Frank Ogb says

    I‘m so much triled by Camara Laye‘s The African Child. It‘s an inspirational novel from great author in an African soil

  21. Claudio Mutua says

    I read the book when I was around 14 and I still think its among the best I ever read! Although I’m from East Africa (Kenya to be exact), and the book was writen several decades before I was born, in an entirely different cultural set-up to mine, I still connected with it instantly. It brilliantly tells the story of growing up in as African child even nolstagically. I can only compare it to David Mailu’s East African Childhood…both the books deserve a place in Africa’s hall of fame.

  22. Godfrey Silas Garvey Olanya says

    I read African Child over thirty years ago when I was still a High School student. It was one of our literature set books and we were taught by Mr Kizza, a very serious teacher who never laughed or smiled, but he made his lessons extremely interesting. I never dodged any of his literature lessons, particularly when we were reading the African Child. I have been looking for a copy of that book since I left High School. It is superb. It is the best copy. I always tell my children about the book.

  23. Omoro noel says

    Its truly a thrilling,sad and exquisitely written soul thriving literal wrk that has plunged the students i have discussed it with into oblivion… Laye vividly describes his journey in the “forest” of traditions and explicitly portrays the character of different societies,french,african,school,children which has all made the african literal wrks a rich album of educative experiences….its a quite likeable book and i place it on the platform of the likes of houseboy by oyono,weep not child by ngugi

  24. Waligo Ronnie says

    Recently i had to make a choice- either to teach Down Second Avenue or The African Child. The African Child has taken the day.

  25. Kirabo Agie Smile says

    Laye is an excellent writer and particularly The African Child is a Very nice and interesting Book,I have read it for over 10 times but don’t get tired of it.

  26. Robert Moss Boxley says

    Ditto Kerry. I, too, was a volunteer teacher in Africa in the 1970s, and I was able to create an African history curriculum in place of the British empire curriculum then being used in my country. The death of Chinua Achebe reminded me of all the African writers’ series literature we volunteers used to read and share with our students, along with Nelson Mandela’s “No Easy Walk to Freedom”, Judith Todd’s “Rhodesia”, etc. Halcyon days! “Nkgosi siki’lele Africa!”

  27. Ukor Jonathan says

    Just finished reading ds book…superb write up, one in a million.
    Laye really told a non-fictional story. I LOVE IT!!!

  28. baker kamya says

    am now in my intermediate school and am reading African child.but the novel is cool,it talks most on our(africans)previous we behaved and how things were handled
    it’s good

  29. says

    I’m a Rwandan Literature teacher in Advanced level ,after reading this book of “The African Child” by Camara Laye I have felt nostaligic to my childhood too because this book reminded me of or my way in childhood till adulthood with all rituals like circumcison and so on so this book,I have recommanded all my learners because it is very interesting and fantastic straightfoward clear and understandable because it is a biography so thank you Camara for your contribution in african literature RIP

  30. says

    As an anthropological account, it ties in with the circumcision rituals undertaken by some of the people of the Foothills of Mt. Elgon: Baliiche. As a literary work, it is the rear view mirror according to which we examine how deviant we have been as a people in respect of our traditions. We have been so adoptive that the contemporary missionary is not at all embarrassed to suggest that men can woo men. They demonized the peoples rituals and called them pagan; now they say that Halloween is not a bad thing for as long as….

  31. Edison Walusimbi says

    Let us encourage our learners to share in this interaction.The African flavor in the African child compares well with Amadi’s The Concubine and Achebe’s Arrow of God.

  32. Vincent says

    I first read this book as a 16 year old junior high school student in early 70’s. It was one of our litrature recommeded books at ISU High School.But in 1996 when I travelled to US via Swiss Air and touched down in Switzerland, the whole account of how Camara travelled to France came rushing into my brain.It was really nostalgic.

  33. SEMPA JOSHUA says

    Fell Africans who have access to texts local writers then we need to change attitite and mindset of how we view things

  34. Oppong stephen Jean says

    The text creates that constant reminder of the past in every one. Just how much do we recall of the early days of our lives?
    Its a must read definitely

  35. Princess Chinenye Akujekwe says

    I Love this book.
    It is a total summary of the life of an African Child.
    The author, Camara Laye is a good writer and a practical example of a sincere autobiography.
    And just like William Plomer rightly said, it ( the autobiography) is without self-pity, self-justification, or boastfulness.
    Finally, the book is generally wonderful.

  36. says

    this book is such an amazing book that teaches mi to respect every one in his or her class plus not playing with snakes and knowing that somethigs are spiritually created

  37. says

    When I was 17 years old, I attend the kgv&ebs to complete my studies. One day my English teacher gave me the following non fiction title to write up a boon report from it. I choose the African Child to write up my book report from it, because it’s was the most interesting story that I ever read and also it affects the way that I used to live in my entire life.

  38. Atinta.Raerang says

    i really love this book cause it shows and gave me courage to study hard till the right time comes to departed from our family to study further and fulfill our own destiny thank u camara laye for showing us the importance of own knowledge

  39. says

    The African Child is a masterpiece.A study of the intriques of life an African child from childhood to maturity.Its nostalgic stance infuses my mind with pride-the pride of belonging.That was a period when communal life in Africa was humane and simple.Life was lived one day at a time.A neighbour’s child succes was the success of the entire village.

  40. Kabonesa Agnes says

    I rely love African books and their authors,I would also like to become a writer but I need people like Laye to guide me on how to do it

  41. says

    I really like the novel as it reveals the African traditional ways w/c reminds me where we Africans came from.I appreciate Laye on his description techniques in the novel w/c of course became easy for me to understand compared to other complicated ones.

  42. Dr. Ojo Sunday Adesoji says

    The African child is a must book to be read by all African children. It reminds us of our origin. Thanks Uncle Canada Laye for your unforgettable contribution to African literature.

  43. Prof. Charles W. Scheel says

    I just happen to reread this novel some 25 years after having studied it in a course on Black francophone literature at the University of Texas in 1987. It is a beautiful novel in which the author shares his reminiscences of his own childhood and youth in Western Guinea in the 1930s and 1940s, before moving on to Paris to graduate as an engineer. So the novel is indeed « nostalgic » and « autobiographical » but it is not set in « the pre-colonial era » as the presentation of the book says. Quite the contrary : it is set at the end of the French colonial period. Also, if the narrator describes an almost idyllic childhood within his family and the traditions of the Muslim Malinke community, the book shows that tradition does not always « engender mutual understanding and respect for all ». Remember that the narrator gets harassed by the older boys at school and that the pupils have to virtually « slave » for the headmaster, whom the narrator’s father goes to beat up, much to the shock of the village… « The Black Child », which was Camara Laye’s first novel, published in Paris in 1953, is written in such flawless academic French and is so uncritical of the colonial system, that it was later attacked for having perhaps been used by the publisher and/or the French colonial ministery as propangada for colonialism. It is also sadly true that the author’s later books and political career showed that the memory of a childhood perceived as ideal does not necessarily make for a happy adulthood in a now independent Africa… A perfect novel is not proof of a perfect society, then or now.

  44. denys says

    this book reminds me of my days in secondary not a literature student, but one teacher, MR chike makes me to love and cherish the of my best literature book,my best chapter is chapter 5, because of the way it start. love you mr chke

  45. Ugo says

    The African Child is one of compulsory novel to read in preparation for WAEC literature-in-English. It’s one of my best help me to understand the life of an African child. The novel remained in my memory. It’s a great writer and one of greatest in Africa

  46. says

    Camara Laye’s novel is a classic and I particularly love the tributes he gave to his mother. I enjoyed reading the Novel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *