AKE: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka

AKE: The Years of Childhood

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AkÉ is the western Nigerian town where Soyinka--one of black Africa's finest writers--grew up, the son of English-speaking, Christianized parents; and this dense, wry, child's-eye memoir of his first twelve years is rich with bi-cultural textures and exquisite period detail (circa 1934-44). Father, headmaster of the local primary school, was known as ""Essay""--thanks to his passion for logic and argument. Mother, a.k.a. ""The Wild Christian,"" ran a shop, lived in exotic disarray, and took in assorted children as freeform boarders-all of them (including quite a few bed-wetters) sleeping together with the Soyinka children on communal mats. But, though the Headmaster's house became ""the intellectual watering hole"" of the area, little Wole was also raised on tribal legends: for instance, ""there was no question about it, our Uncle Sanya was an ore"" (tree demon); and Wole's grandfather put him through a strengthening ritual--the cutting of the ankles. Some confusions and conflicts, then, were inevitable. Was St. Peter an egungun (spirit of the dead)? Was it a good thing or a bad thing that the headmaster's children never learned how to behave to tribal elders? Was Essay right in pushing Wole toward the goal of a white-supervised, government-school education? And, not surprisingly, intellectually gifted Wole became a brooding, odd-minded little boy, distrustful of inconsistent adults--especially after the death of his baby sister. (Was she dropped by the maid? Or was she, as one relative murmured, a ""weird child""?) Yet, along with these mysterious, goose-pimply matters, Soyinka buoyantly sketches in more cheerful, everyday memories: the arrival of the family radio, with its bewildering situation comedies; how Wild Christian dealt with a persistent lunchtime free-loader; the lovely art of grass mowing; the antitaxation march led by AkÉ's ""Women's Movement."" And the result--with flashforwards to the neighborhood as it is today (MacDonald's!)--is a graceful, touching, thickly evocative childhood memoir: absolutely one-of-a-kind.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 1982
ISBN: 0679725407
Publisher: Random House