cover image Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth

Wole Soyinka. Pantheon, $29.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-593-32016-7

Nobel Prize winner Soyinka’s first novel in almost 50 years (after the essay collection Beyond Aesthetics) delivers a sharp-edged satire of his native Nigeria. The tone is set early, as an omniscient narrator caustically refers to the country as the home of “the Happiest People in the World,” a status bolstered by a Nigerian governor’s creation of “a Ministry of Happiness,” to be led by the governor’s spouse. Soyinka presents a dizzying array of characters and plotlines to bolster the notion that his country’s “success” is a facade built on corruption and lies. This is perhaps best illustrated by the story line involving Dr. Kighare Menka, a surgeon particularly adept at treating the victims of terror attacks. Menka’s approached by representatives of Primary Resources Management, dedicated to combating waste by maximizing “human resources.” Menka learns that behind the slogans is a business plan to obtain body parts for an affluent clientele, and that he’s viewed as a steady source for the limbs and organs the venture needs. Soyinka injects suspense as well with a whodunit plot. Those with a solid grounding in current Nigerian politics are most likely to pick up on allusions to events and personalities that will elude the lay reader. Still, the imaginatively satirical treatment of serious issues makes this engaging on multiple levels. (Sept.)