BOOKS/FILMS/AUTHORS--USEM4--1999

The Dark Child by Camara Laye

The time that Camara Laye grew up was also a time of great change, similar to the current century in America, where generations of farmers raise children who become computer programmers, and a family which has owned the same store for hundreds of years now has scholars and engineers to pass the store on to.

Though Camara Laye's depiction of village life is very far from anything I have experienced, the feelings and emotions that he portrays when he left his family to better his education hit very close to home.

At first while reading I considered the life that Laye had so unlike my childhood; but as I probed deeper into the culture and into my childhood I realized that though the actual rituals may be different, the concepts behind them were very similar. Many of the rituals that were practiced in Laye's life stemmed from his religion and involved the "coming of age." This is very similar to the rites of passage that my life followed. Though the ceremonies were carried out very differently, I could definitely argue the point that my bat mitzvah relates very closely to Laye's circumcision ritual.

One . . . event of the novel that particularly stands out in my mind is the image of Laye's two younger brothers at the train station as he leaves home for the first time on his way to Conakry. . . . This passage hits quite close to home, as I left two younger brothers--an eight-year-old and an almost-five-year-old--when I left for college. Leaving them was by far the most difficult part. I find that my experience is directly related to Laye's. His brothers represent the whole of his youth and innocence that he is leaving behind; they are a symbol of the life that he once lived and has chosen to put behind him.

Coming of age stories have always been my favorite. However, I think I read this novel in a very new light, since this is my first time reading about a character's loss of innocence when I myself am simultaneously undergoing the same changes. . . . From this connection stems a newfound courage that I have gotten from Laye's determination and bravery to travel so far from home at such a young age.

I found myself comparing this rite of passage to that of my own tradition, specifically to bar mitzvahs. In my own community, the idea of a bar mitzvah has transformed so much and become so commercialized that I found myself almost jealous of the meaning still preserved in the Malinke people's tradition.

By having this taste of Africa, I want to know more. I find it interesting . . . that . . ., while I type on my computer, boys are dancing to a drum to ward off an evil.

Laye learns about the history of his family and the way of life of his ancestors, while in almost direct contradiction, he is also being taught about French geography and the French language.

I learned much about the culture and customs of the Malinke people. Even though there were native words used by Laye, I was not deterred from proceeding; rather I found myself very interested in this culture of magic charms, guiding spirits, dreams, and singers of tradition (griots). It was interesting learning about totems and the childhood stories of how monkeys tricked panthers and tree rats tricked hyenas.