All eyes in the literary world are on the 28th of September because Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka’s new novel will be launched on the day.
It is not altogether unusual for readers to be filled with anticipation when a new title by a celebrated writer is about to be released. But why this extra fanfare around Soyinka’s book?
Nobel Laureates launch their new books every now and then and when they do, one can positively say such books garner much attention. But definitely not as much as Soyinka’s new novel. The only writer with whom Soyinka’s case can be compared is Gabriel Garcia Marquez whose international releases would have created a similar situation globally. But the reason Marquez was so loved by readers lay not in his having won the Nobel but in his unique storytelling.
Soyinka is a versatile literary genius who has written many plays, poetry collections and memoirs since the 1950s. His debut novel, The Interpreters, was published in 1965 to great critical acclaim. His second novel, Season of Anomy, which was also his most recent novel, came out in 1973. He was the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986. In its announcement, the Nobel Committee called him “one of the finest poetical playwrights that have written in English.”
So Soyinka’s new novel, Chronicles of the Happiest People on Earth, will be his first novel to be published in 48 years. This piece of information is precisely what explains why the launch of this book is being regarded as one of the biggest literary events of the year.
Published in the US by Pantheon Books, an imprint of Knopf, the book is set in an imaginary Nigeria. It will be simultaneously published in the UK by Bloomsbury. As an eBook and also on audio form, it will be published by Penguin Random House.
Terming the book a “tour de force”, Knopf Executive Editor Erroll McDonald said:
“They are for me a visionary company, avatars of excellence, the only Black writers to have been consecrated by the Nobel Foundation with its prize in literature—and within a dizzying seven years: first was Wole Soyinka of Nigeria in 1986, then Derek Walcott of the Caribbean island Saint Lucia in 1992, and Toni Morrison of the United States only one year later. No other Black writer in the diaspora has won the prize in nearly three decades. Of the three Black Nobel laureates only Soyinka, age 86, is alive, and he is writing at the peak of his powers.
“Nearly forty years ago, as a novice editor at Random House, I had the honor of publishing Soyinka’s classic memoir, Ake: The Years of Childhood, still in print in Vintage and arguably the book for which he is best known in America. Today I find myself blessed again—on the cusp of publishing, in Pantheon Books, his first novel in nearly fifty years, Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth. Informed at once by Soyinka’s cultural rootedness and his wide-ranging cosmopolitanism, it is a wicked, gleefully irreverent, and rollicking satire on how power and greed can corrupt the soul of a nation. Soyinka has given us a brilliant and necessary book for our times.”