I think there are a lot of positive features in the book. Firstly, translators James Kirkup and Ernest Jones have done a stellar job of rendering the original French version into English. The translator’s major accomplishment is in being able to retain the ‘authorial voice’ of Laye across languages. The style of presentation and the manner of sentence construction highly resemble the original. This way we are made aware that the narrator is someone who is not a native speaker of English. This lends a quality of authenticity to the text. Second, the choice of topics and themes dealt by the book is very discreet. Camara Laye strikes a good balance between socio-historical commentary and autobiography. This juxtaposition works well for the book, as the author succeeds in bringing impersonal tone to his analysis and judgment.
Coming to one of the few drawbacks, it would be imprudent for students to think of ‘The African Child’ as factually accurate at all places. For reasons of literary and artistic licence there are instances where fact merges into the realm of the fiction. So, the scholarly merit of the work will have to be weighed in this light. Barring such small drawbacks, I would recommend this book for students of African history, politics and culture. A kaleidoscopic view of all these subjects is presented through the prism of one individual’s life, namely, the author himself. The time from Laye’s infancy to his adulthood offers a representative snapshot of early twentieth century Africa. The book is rich in detail, colourful in its perspectives and insightful in its socio-cultural analysis.
Laye, Camara, The Dark Child: The Autobiography of an African Boy, Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1954, pp.192, ISBN: 080901548X