Excerpt from You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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You Must Set Forth at Dawn

A Memoir

by Wole Soyinka

You Must Set Forth at Dawn
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2007, 528 pages

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I cannot wait to repossess the bush, or maybe it is the other way around, let the bush repossess me. The bush and its furtive breath. Refuge and solace. The mere thought brings in its train the smells, and soon my seat is isolated and wreathed in nothing but the very smells of the bush! The thought of resuming my forays into those silent growths finally quickens my pulse, hesitantly, just perceptibly, sobered by the thought that Femi, whom I also taught to hunt, will no longer be a part of it. Yet there, perhaps, is where I would most painlessly recover his presence—in those swathes of isolation, that terrain of so many sensory ambiguities. Enfolded within the tropical bush, the effect is tranquilizing—until of course the moment of the approach of a quarry—not that the pulse quickens all that noticeably even then. It does not matter whether it is the Harmattan season of dry air with its parched or burnt vegetation— except in the early morning when the foliage is misted over and even the earth is deceptively damp—or the rainy season, which leaves you tangling with moist thickets, fording swollen gorges, sliding on treacherous rocks, and being sucked into mud gullies, day or night, at night with nothing but a few stars seen through branches or fireflies to test your patience and judgment as you wonder whether they are the eyes of a wildcat, a tree cyrax, or twin raindrops caught in the light of your night lamp.

All that matters is the escape into timelessness, interrupted by furtive pads of a four-footed quarry or the sudden burst of the brown bush fowl or gray-streaked guinea fowl soaring and screaming over trees. An instant only to decide whether or not the latter is worth the try—even if you downed it, how much time would it demand to plunge into the hostile fastness to retrieve your booty? In the process you become insensitive to the rank presence of a far larger quarry, the prized egbin* or igala,† or a patriarch or matriarch of the etu‡ family, the archsurvivor of the species—adimu—whose heavy meat could feed a fair-sized company of guerrillas long lost in the bush. . . . Definitely it is the bush, the bush alone—its smells, muted sounds, textures, and often impenetrable silence that finally bathe me in a glow of warm anticipation. It is that, that alone, not any other resumption of relationships or recovery of suspended voices. Is this some form of misanthropy?

Or perhaps it is the suppressed fear that my house is gone anyway, that I am returning to a conspicuous gap in the landscape at which I had hacked and quarried, years before my departure, to give expression to my appetite for space. News of the invasion had reached me, but the dimension of destruction had been vague and guarded, as if the kind couriers had agreed to hold back the worst. In truth, regarding the building itself, I had not planned to encase so much space within walls, just a small cottage, after my retirement from university service, but with as much ground as I could afford. Still, hovel or mansion, the soldiers’ violation hung over it, as it hung over many other homes that were owned by perceived enemies of the dictator, Sani Abacha. The house had been built almost entirely from the windfall of the Nobel Prize. I had expanded it from its original design only because I wanted to create a space for periodic retreat for writers and artists—typical of the fantasies of those who are suddenly bombarded with more money than generations before them ever laid eyes on! Thus was born the notion of the Essay Foundation for the Humanities, named after my father, whose initials, S.A., had coalesced in my childhood mind as one word: Essay.

* A quadruped of the deer/antelope family.

† Same as above.

‡ A large specimen of the rodent family.

Excerpted from You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka Copyright © 2006 by Wole Soyinka. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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