The Nobel Prize-winning writer returns after a half-century hiatus with this satirical meditation on how power and greed can corrupt the soul of a nation: In an imaginary Nigeria, a cunning entrepreneur is selling body parts stolen from Dr. Menka's hospital for use in ritualistic practices, setting off a whodunit tale and scathing indictment of Nigeria's political elite.
Breezy, sometimes, punchy, it is typical Wole Soyinka: brimming with wisdom and full of words you may never have heard or seen or read anywhere. You have to polish your vocabulary with it. What comes across is the fact that you cannot deny that Soyinka is a master when it comes to telling stories. In real life, he is not boring and on a sheet of paper, the mastery shows. He writes with the fury of someone, angry, but relaxed and sitting on his throne ... many years of living, deeper wisdom, unleashed in a very lasting narrative technique and a narrator’s voice that is familiar ... as I read, I could hear his voice—here is a book that is not for everyone, because of his perfect mastery of language ... This storytelling technique is very muscular. I have never seen anyone write about the political/religious class with so much dexterity. And perhaps, accuracy! His wealth of experience from different strata of life, reflects fully in this masterpiece.
This is essentially a whistleblower’s book. It is a novel that explodes criminal racketeering of a most sinister and deadly kind that is operating in an African nation uncomfortably like Nigeria. It is a vivid and wild romp through a political landscape riddled with corruption and opportunism and a spiritual landscape riddled with fraudulence and, even more disquietingly, state-sanctioned murder. This is a novel written at the end of an artist’s tether. It has gone beyond satire. It is a vast danse macabre. It is the work of an artist who finally has found the time and the space to unleash a tale about all that is rotten in the state of Nigeria. No one else can write such a book and get away with it and still live and function in the very belly of the horrors revealed. But then no other writer has Soyinka’s unique positioning in the political and cultural life of his nation ... One thing to be clear about from the outset is that with certain writers of highly individualised voices, highly cultivated ways of seeing, there is nothing you can do about their styles. It is an inescapable fruit of how they see the world. Like Henry James, like Conrad, like Nabokov, there is no choice but to get used to the style, to saturate yourself in it. But once you nestle into that tone, something wonderful happens and a rollercoaster ride of enormous vitality is the result ... It is a high-wire performance sustained for more than 400 pages and it makes for uncomfortable and despairing reading, but always elevated with a robust sense of humour and the true satirist’s unwillingness to take the pretensions of power seriously, even when it is murderous in effect ... There are many things to remark upon in this Vesuvius of a novel, not least its brutal excoriation of a nation in moral free fall. The wonder is how Soyinka managed to formulate a tale that can carry the weight of all that chaos. With asides that are polemics, facilitated with a style that is over-ripe, its flaws are plentiful, its storytelling wayward, but the incandescence of its achievement makes these quibbles inconsequential ... If you want to know what kind of novel can be written by someone who has survived as a sort of insid… answers that question. It is Soyinka’s greatest novel, his revenge against the insanities of the nation’s ruling class and one of the most shocking chronicles of an African nation in the 21st century. It ought to be widely read.
Chronicles is written in what critics would describe as a 'late style': a bit prolix, often dilatory and anecdotal. It is also courageous, and it does name names and point fingers. One of the delights is the ease with which Soyinka switches between registers, from the elevated to the absurd, along with his unapologetic use of 'Nigerianisms' and Yoruba vernacular. There is a long monologue in pidgin English near the end of the book where a steward, Godsown, gives a hilarious account of a crime he has witnessed. Perhaps the writer’s personality looms larger than any character he portrays, but then, as most readers will tell you, that is exactly what they want from Soyinka: the witty anecdotes, the digressions, even the famous linguistic obscurity and bombast. There is a restless intellectual energy here that belies the age of the author ... a good model for what the political novel should be: fearless, disdaining formal constraints, sparing no one, leaving behind it a scorched earth littered with the burnt figures of corrupt politicians and military dictators and religious charlatans and social parasites, and even the masses who, in the name of religion and tribe, are made tools of the elite. In the end, it is a triumph of the novel as a form: its ability to accommodate all styles and approaches. How lucky we are that Soyinka has decided to give that form another go.