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A dazzling memoir of an African childhood from Nobel Prize-winning Nigerian novelist, playwright, and poet Wole Soyinka.
Aké: The Years of Childhood gives us the story of Soyinka’s boyhood before and during World War II in a Yoruba village in western Nigeria called Aké. A relentlessly curious child who loved books and getting into trouble, Soyinka grew up on a parsonage compound, raised by Christian parents and by a grandfather who introduced him to Yoruba spiritual traditions. His vivid evocation of the colourful sights, sounds, and aromas of the world that shaped him is both lyrically beautiful and laced with humour and the sheer delight of a child’s view. A classic of African autobiography, Aké is also a transcendently timeless portrait of the mysteries of childhood.
Wole Soyinka narrates his childhood growing up in Southwestern Nigeria in the 1930/40s. This period of his childhood coincides with the period of the Second World War and though the war touched West Africa, little is mentioned of it in this book.
While the war was ongoing, child Soyinka – referred to simply as Wole in the memoir – fights little battles in his own tiny world, in a small colonial town stuck between the old and new ways, old tribal administration and Imperial Britain, ancient traditional practices and Christianity.
The story is told from a child’s viewpoint, which makes it even more intriguing. We can see the world, and ‘adult affairs’ viewed from the prism of childlike innocence. Little Wole, even at age three, tries to find rationality in what he labels the “irrational world” of adults. He struggles to understand Christian teachings, ancient traditional influences, the place of ancestral spirits in the increasingly Christian society – thanks to the British missionaries – and the reason behind the rules and judgements of adults, which always seem to be dished out with finality. Towards the end, eleven-year-old Wole is given his earliest major taste of political revolution and uprising.
PRAISE FOR THE BOOK
“A lovely, magical book.” –The Washington Post
“A brilliant imagist who uses poetry and drama to convey his inquisitiveness, frustration, and sense of wonder.” –Newsweek
Brilliant … Transcendent … It locates the lost child in all of us, underneath language, inside sound and smell, wide-eyed, brave and flummoxed … Soyinka belongs in the company of … V. S. Naipaul, V. S. Pritchett, and Vladimir Nabokov.” –The New York Times
“A delightful memoir.” –The Atlantic
“Unquestionably Africa’s most versatile writer and arguably her finest … Ake is a classic of African autobiography, indeed a classic of childhood memoirs wherever and whenever produced.” –The New York Times Book Review
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