AKE: The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka
Kirkus Star

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? (""They don't know how to prostrate, please don't take offence."") Was Essay right in pushing Wole toward the goal of a white-supervised, government-school education? (Uncle Ransome-Kuti disapproved.) 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 anti-taxation march led by AkÉ's ""Women's Movement."" And the result--with flash-forwards 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