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The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka





During the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970) Wole Soyinka was arrested and incarcerated for twenty-two months, most of it spent in solitary confinement in a cell, 4ft by 8ft. His offence: assisting the Biafran secessionists.
The Man Died, now regarded as a classic of prison literature, is a product of this experience. What comes through in the compelling narrative is the author’s uncompromising, principled stand on the universality and indivisibility of freedom and human rights.

Get into the mind of the man himself and see the searing mental effects of his solitary confinement.

A touching tale from a literary giant, the book takes the reader into a spiralling mind that was confined to a narrow cell (4ft by 8ft!) and deprived of so many things that free people ordinarily take for granted. Soyinka does not simply tell a story, he makes the reader into an empath who explores each thought and feeling with him. Employing a stream-of-consciousness technique, he pulls us into his psyche. We are not just bystanders watching, we are in the experience with him.
The character is real, as is his experience. This book exposes more than just the experiences of one man, it also zeroes in on the civil war and will definitely create a thirst in the reader to know more about the Nigerian civil war. So, for those who know little about the civil war beware that this book pushes you into asking questions, pushes you to find out more about Nigeria and the Biafra history.
What exactly did Soyinka do to warrant such, we must say inhuman, confinement? What were his true goals? How did he keep himself sane, left with nothing but indecent meals and his own dark mind for two years? The fasting he began certainly played a part in it. It was, the man says, to keep himself in relative control over his own body, and especially his own mind, which was spinning more and more out of control. Find out more about this from the book, The Man Died.
In the book, Soyinka shares this experience of witnessing another suffering and then dying in the prison:

The groans do not cease nor do they diminish. The bloodless inhuman steadiness of this sound of human suffering is the most unnerving aspect of it all. It does not come from volition but the weak inertia of a muted pulse. As if the man has merely left his mouth open and the sound emerges with his breathing out.
It is close to dawn when the sound stops. Abruptly. No weakening ever, neither faltering nor a rallying intensity. I knew it is over.

Soon it is the hour when “all the dead awaken”. As the key turns in my lock I ask the warder what became of the suffering man.
“The man died,” he said.

In the end, even Soyinka himself did die, a death that gave life to the man we have come to know. And we are left wondering the full extent of this rebirth, and whether without it he could have been much the same giant and icon we now know and respect.

The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka

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