Camara Laye, a Guinean novelist, short story writer, and essayist, was born in 1924 in the ancient city of Kouroussa, Upper Guinea. Brought up in a devout Muslim family, he later moved to France, where he studied engineering in Paris and supplemented his scholarship stipend by doing odd jobs.
In 1956, he left France to return to Africa, moving first to Dahomey (Benin) and later to Ghana. When Guinea, gained independence in 1958, Laye was appointed the country’s ambassador to Ghana. He went on to serve the Guinean government in several capacities before eventually falling out with the country’s president, Sekou Touré. After being imprisoned, Laye fled Guinea and eventually settled in Senegal, where he lived in exile until his death in 1980.
Laye’s first novel, The African Child (titled L’Enfant Noir in French) was published in 1954 and received the Priz Charles Veillon – one of France’s leading literary awards. The African Child was one of the first novels by an African writer to gain international attention, and is still regarded among the continent’s best works.
The book is a nostalgic memoir of his childhood, growing up in the Malinké culture in his native Guinea during the pre-colonial period. His second book, Le Regard du Roi (The Radiance of the King), which came out in France in 1954, is generally recognized as his most fascinating work.
Laye’s last book, The Guardian of the Word (published in 1979), is a collection of native songs and lore. It received the Prix de l’Académie Française.
Sources: New York Review of Books, Wikipedia, Rereading Camara Laye by Adèle King (2002), Kirjasto.sci, others.
The African Child (1954) – also titled The Dark Child
The Dark Child is a distinct and graceful memoir of Camara Laye’s youth in the village of Koroussa, French Guinea. Long regarded Africa’s preeminent Francophone novelist, Laye (1928-80) herein marvels over his 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. Eventually, he must choose between this unique place and the academic success that lures him to distant cities. More than autobiography of one boy, this is the universal story of sacred traditions struggling against the encroachment of a modern world. A passionate and deeply affecting record, The Dark Child is a classic of African literature.
The Radiance of the King (2011 reprint by NYRB)
At the beginning of this masterpiece of African literature, Clarence, a white man, has been shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. Flush with self-importance, he demands to see the king, but the king has just left for the south of his realm. Traveling through an increasingly phantasmagoric landscape in the company of a beggar and two roguish boys, Clarence is gradually stripped of his pretensions, until he is sold to the royal harem as a slave. But in the end Clarence’s bewildering journey is the occasion of a revelation, as he discovers the image, both shameful and beautiful, of his own humanity in the alien splendor of the king. Read more about Laye’s The Radiance of the King (New York Review Books Classics)