A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt

An African Memoir
Toyin Falola
The long-awaited memoir from the most prolific historian of Africa


A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt gathers the stories and reflections of the early years of Toyin Falola, the grand historian of Africa and one of the greatest sons of Ibadan, the notable Yoruba city-state in Nigeria. Redefining the autobiographical genre altogether, Falola miraculously weaves together personal, historical, and communal stories, along with political and cultural developments in the period immediately preceding and following Nigeria's independence, to give us a unique and enduring picture of the Yoruba's history, traditions, pleasures, mysteries, household arrangements, forms of power, struggles, and transformations in the mid-twentieth century. This is truly a literary memoir, told in language rich with proverbs, poetry, song, and humor.

Toyin Falola is the Frances Higginbothom Nalle Centennial Professor of History and Nelson Mandela Professor of African Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. Author or editor of over fifty books and countless articles, he has written extensively on subjects ranging from political economy, nationalism, development, and violence to religion.

Praise / Awards

  • "Dear Reader, Please do not open this book in a public place. People would think you are crazy, since they might catch you laughing so much that you could cry, hit your thigh, or roll on the floor of the train, plane, cafe, or wherever. Sometimes, the tears might even be for real, since the author also spares neither himself nor us a good look at the tragedy that life can be. Toyin Falola has given us what is truly rare in modern African writing: a seriously funny, racy, irreverent package of memories, and full of the most wonderful pieces of poetry and ordinary information. It is a matter of some interest, that the only other volume A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt reminds one of is Ake, by Wole Soyinka. What is it about these Yorubas?"
    —Ama Ata Aidoo, author of Our Sister Killjoy: Or, Reflections from a Black-Eyed Squint, The Dilemma of a Ghost: Anowa, and No Sweetness Here and Other Stories

  • "More than a personal memoir, this book is a rich mini-history of contemporary Nigeria recorded in delicious detail by a perceptive eyewitness who grew up at the crossroads of many cultures."
    —Bernth Lindfors, Professor of English and American Literatures, University of Texas at Austin

  • "I am so proud of the author of this book. This will be the first time I have found a book that I can read for pure leisure and at the same time for serious intellectual discourse. It is as useful to a historian as it is to a literary critic, an anthropologist, a sociologist, etc.. A high school kid will enjoy it not less than a graduate/professional. It is a class in itself! I hope the book reached the wider audience that it so much deserves. Kudos to The University of Michigan Press."
    —Michael O. Afolayan

  • "This is creative non-fiction at its best. It is memory, experience, reflections, and exploration woven into a magical narrative that gives insights into the complexity of African thought and world-view. A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt should be of interest to the general reader and to students of Yoruba, African religions, philosophy, medicine, art and literature."
    —Ngugi wa Thiong'o, University of California, Irvine

  • "This is the best memoir I have read in many years. Like the weaverbird, this master weaver takes the reader through tunnels of very intricate alleyways of the history of his people... The weaving of the personal into the general, the worldly into the spiritual; the meeting point of family and nationhood, the local and the international, wives and husbands; the curiosity of childhood and the boldness of youth, the mystery of culture and the equal radical demystification of culture all converge to make a colorfully woven history that reads like a dictionary! Toyin Falola has blazed another trail with this piece."
    —Paul Onovoh

  • "Toyin Falola has written a splendid coming-of-age story so full of vivid color and emotion, the words seem to dance off the page. But this is not only Falola's memoir; it is an account of a new nation coming into being and the tensions and negotiations that invariably occur between city and country, tradition and modernity, men and women, rich and poor--a truly beautiful book."
    —Robin D.G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination and Remembering Slavery: African Americans Talk About Their Personal Experiences of Slavery and Freedom

  • ". . . the reader is held spell-bound by Professor Falola's unique and exceptional narrations. . . . The memoir, in all of its facets, is a literary treasure that one should feel very happy and proud to own!"
    —Dorothy V. Smith and Rose Abena, African and Asian Studies

  • "This is a charming, humorous, and eloquent memoir by a noted African historian. . . .. While recounting tales of his youth, Falola also imparts Yoruba wisdom and information about Yoruba culture. Each chapter contains lessons about anthropology, history, and Yoruba morality as well as comments on and criticisms of Nigeria over the last 40 years. . . . Yoruba words, poetry, stories, songs, proverbs, prayers, and incantations are interspersed in the text to underline and exemplify the account. Scholars and advanced students of Africa, particularly West Africa, will find this book deepens their knowledge and understanding of the region."

  • "While the politics of tradition and modernity is one major theme that sticks out, other themes are apparent as well, including, among many others, the pervasiveness of religion and its uses in Yoruba society, the tension between community and individual concerns, and gender roles in the African setting. It is this balance of so many ideas and approaches wrapped in a compelling narrative of childhood memories that makes A Mouth Sweeter than Salt such an interesting and valuable read for anyone with an interest in the African experience."
    E3W Review of Books

  • "All this is mesmerizing, especially to those who know Yoruba culture and society mainly through the prism of learned studies. It is mesmerizing in that all the familiar ethnographic themes emerge but at unexpected turns in the tale and within novel settings that completely alter their meanings, and turn a pallid frozen ethnographic ghost into a vibrant social history bursting with life. This really is a literary masterpiece."
    Journal of African History

  • "Individual cultural details are fascinating, particularly Falola's child's-eye view of his polygamous family. For those with an interest in Nigerian history, the extended analysis of the city of Ibadan and its role in Yoruba life is brilliant. . . . Falola weaves a web of images, stories, catchy phrases, proverbs, and songs that draw one in."
    Multicultural Review

  • ". . . Falola provides an unforgettable portrait of the Yoruba in the mid-twentieth century as he charts his youth and the birth of a new nation. . . . A Mouth Sweeter Than Salt is worth going through the trouble of special ordering. If you are interested in Africa or, more particularly, Nigerian history, this is a book you definitely want to read."
    —Robert Francis, Peninsula Post

  • ". . . a rich and often profoundly beautiful book. . . . There's little doubt, I think, that within the growing body of African autobiographical literature, this book is going to stand high."
    —Chris Dunton, Sunday Independent (South Africa)

  • "As its title promises, A Mouth Sweeter than Salt: An African Memoir is an excursion into the unfamiliar world and the mysterious aphorisms and proverbs employed there. It is both a personal memoir of the author's transition from childhood to adolescence and a community memoir of Nigeria's transformation from a British colony to an independent country. Getting acquainted with the narrator is like getting acquainted with his country; it takes some time, and there are liable to be misunderstandings at first, but the effort is remarkably rewarding and worthwhile. Both the man and the country come across as tough and tender, with an understated sense of humor. . . . Most wonderful of all is how the personal, the communal, the political, and economic histories all intertwine. Every detail is attended to. . . . The family and community members of Falola's youth, seen through a child's eyes, may appear mysterious and standoffish. But in the end, one senses their goodness, wisdom, and affection. A month after my first literary encounter with these people, I find myself still thinking of them, puzzling over them, and missing them."
    —Marcela Sulak, Texas Observer

  • "This Nigerian coming-of-age memoir is irreverent, poetic and filled with the kind of ordinary information that makes Nigeria feel oddly familiar, even in its loud, exuberant foreignness."
    The Guardian (UK)

  • Runner-up: 9th Robert Hamilton Book Award from the University of Texas -- Austin

  • Finalist: The Association of African Studies 2005 Melville J. Herskovits Award

  • Finalist: The Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) 2005 Cecil B. Currey Award

  • Winner: 2004 Association of Third World Studies (ATWS) President's Distinguished Leadership and Scholarship Award

  • Winner: West African Oral History Association's E.J. Alagoa Prize for the best book for 2003-2004

Look Inside

Copyright © 2004, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 5.75 x 9.25.
  • 288pp.
  • 5 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2005
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03132-0

Add to Cart
  • $28.95 U.S.

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  • memoir, Nigeria, Nigerian, history, Ibadan, Yoruba, African studies, proverbs, poetry, song, humor