Despite the fact that standards of life in the U.S. are generally far higher than those in Africa, social scientists puzzle over the fact that suicide rates in Africa are much lower than in the Americas–and nearly half those in Europe. In a culture that is objectively cleaner, safer and more orderly, what breeds this desperation?

For Chigozie Obioma, a Nigerian writer and professor at the University of Nebraska, the bigger mystery was in Africa. What accounted for the boundless hope of so many Africans living in difficult, poverty-ridden conditions?

Obioma’s work charts the tensions between between tradition and modern life, and their impact on people's happiness. The professor has...

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