It is just as the main course arrives that Wole Soyinka — playwright, poet, novelist, essayist and part-time agitator — reaches into his pocket and brings out a plump green chilli. "Actually, when I travel I always carry a special paste, which I have made for me — paste which I put in my pocket," he offers by way of explanation in his plummy baritone. "This one," he says, proceeding to dissect the dapple-green pepper, "I got when I arrived in London. Because I forgot my paste in the fridge in Sochi." There’s something in the casualness of the gesture that sums up the larger-than-life 83-year-old. Soyinka, one of the great postcolonial literary figures — he won Africa’s first Nobel Prize for literature in 1986 — and a fearless denouncer of dictators is a peripatetic adventurer, seemingly at total ease in his own skin. In the chilli incident is a dash of eccentricity, a deft nod to travels in Russia, and the confidence of a man happy to produce his own fiery condiment in a London fish...

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