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Ake: The Years of Childhood
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Ake: The Years of Childhood

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  687 ratings  ·  60 reviews
The first volume of Wole Soyinka's acclaimed series of autobiographical works. This vivid, exuberant book is the author's account of his childhood in colonial Nigeria. Soyinka's rich and evocative prose tells the tales of his schooldays and adventures, recollecting fears and dangers, and always sensitive to the surprises of childhood. Days full of discoveries, excitement,...more
Paperback, 230 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1981)
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How often do I call something 'Proustian'? Not that often, yes? So, pay attention, because this work brings to mind that languid tidal wave in all the right ways.

Out of the entirety of ISoLT, Swann's Way is the volumetric portion that stays with me, both out of the initial contact of superb wonder and my penchant for childhood narratives that don't talk down to its younger self. To begin to read those pages is to dive and it is the same here in Aké, land calling to faith calling to logistics wit...more
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

#1 I love thine imagery and art. How the bewilderment of a little boy is captured through his grownup self and laid bare on the page.

#2 I love thee for thine courage. 1982 and thou dared come forth as a work of nonfiction, during a time when your African peers would have scorned your genre, told thee that thou art a bit full of it, that only true stories of kings, queens, or presidents (if even that) are befitting to be set to books.

#3 I love the bursts...more
Soyinka, Wole. AKÉ: The Years of Childhood. (1981). ***1/2. The author is a professor of comparative literature at the University of Ife, Nigeria, and holds an honorary doctorate from Yale. Up until this book was published, he was known for his plays and his work of criticism: Myth, Literature, and the African World. In this memoir, he tells of his childhood growing up in the town of Aké, up through his eleventh birthday. I don’t know about you, but most of my childhood is a blur. What I think I...more
Aké, the first volume of Nigerian Nobel prize winner Wole Soyinka's (possibly slightly fictionalised) autobiography, is the first book of his I've read. For most authors, an autobiography is probably not the best place to start; most of the time, I want a reason to care about what the author has done before getting into his life story.

In this case, though, it doesn't disappoint at all. Aké chronicles young Wole's childhood up to about 11 years of age, and given that he was born in 1934, that's a...more
The opening pages of Ake did not grip me. Were it not for sheer force of will to finish this book on time for school, I probably would have set it down with a vague intention to return to it another day, when I could linger over the languorous descriptions of parsonage and terrain. Then I got to Wild Christian and the debate over whether Uncle Sanya is an oro. Soyinka’s use of dialogue is so confident, so immediate and nuanced, that I found it entirely effortless to surrender to his narrative au...more
soyinka has received a nobel prize and many people have praised his semi-autobiographical novel ake, but i struggled to reach its end. it was slow, choppy, and difficult to connect with any of the characters. it is the tale of wole, told from his perspective, as he grows from a toddler to a young boy in WWII-era nigeria. soyinka does a fine job of describing things from a child's eyes, but it is hardly enough to carry the book. i found myself daydreaming while i read -- there was no connection t...more
Wole Soyinka's memoir of his childhood begins with an evocative image of the land of his birth and the parsonage that was his stomping ground. It ends with him about to join Government College (a secondary boarding school) in Ibadan. In between, we learn of the vagaries of life and education in Aké, the confrontation between traditional mysticism and modern Christianity, the governance of the region by chiefs and a King, the crushing poverty of the deep rurarility, and the beginnings of women's...more
I've almost finished teaching "Things Fall Apart" with this year's 10th graders, so that story was still fresh in my mind while I read this memoir by another Nigerian writer. Whereas Achebe writes about the Igbo people, though, Soyinka is from the western, Yoruba, part of the country. This made for an interesting contrast between the two cultures, languages, etc. Also, Achebe's book deals with the time right before colonization really took hold, and "Ake" takes place during World War II; by then...more
This book isn't a classic of African literature- it's a classic, simple! How can one ever forget the memorable and hilarious characters that peopled its pages, characters like Osiki, You-Mean-Mayself and even the author himself, to mention a few.
I recommend this book to you. You-Mean-Mayself? Yes, I mean you.
Wendy Budetti
This was a difficult book to read because of all of the cultural references I didn't understand. I enjoyed the book a lot more after our in-class discussion of it, and I would revisit it again someday.
John David
Wole Soyinka, the first African to ever be awarded the Noble Prize in Literature, grew up in Nigeria in the fifties, when both his native country and much of the rest of Africa was still roiling under imperial European rule. To no one’s surprise, this results in a memoir that very much reads as if the writer is being torn between two priorities, two sets of values, two worlds. Soyinka’s “Ake: The Years of Childhood,” which cover his earliest memories up through approximately age eleven, is no di...more
Apr 30, 2014 Alex marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
1983. This dude won a Nobel and this is his famousest book. Aubrey suggests I bump it up my list.
"'We have a farm on the way to Osiele, just outside the town.' That was true. I had accompanied Essay there once or twice but it was mostly cared for by a farmer whom he employed.
'Well, as I said, your father was raised here. He is a farmer's son. But I know his work doesn't give him much time to have a farm like this one. I mean, have you ever spent weeks on your farm?'
I shook my head.
'You see. What about a night?'
'Never,' I admitted."(136)
Change "father" to "mother", and I relate to this so...more
Soyinka was a significant figure in developing my love for poetry. I've carried around a poem by him, an 'always all-time fave,' through years and places after discovering it in a Lit class. Since then, I've dipped in and out of other poems, touching base with his words here and there, always planning to get to know more of his works and more of the poet himself.

A couple of years ago, I decided that the first of his book-shaped works I'd read would be this childhood memoir, chosen at random (aft...more
Kelsey Demers
Nobel Prize winning author Wole Soyinka's autobiography is truly not an easy read. His dense writing requires the reader's constant attention, but the attentive reader will be rewarded with a beautiful, rich tale of this man's story of his childhood as he chronicles his adventures through and perceptions of his world in Nigeria in the late 30s and early 40s.

Following this young prodigy from ages 3-11, the story takes the reader through a vivid world where a young boy grows up in a hybrid existe...more
I expected to get a lot more from Wole Soyinka’s Aké than I did. It’s not every day that the childhood memoirs of a Nobel Laureate come to hand. Expectation demanded something special, something revelatory perhaps, from the formative years of a man who grew up to be one of the greatest writers of all time. What Aké presented was in fact exactly what it said on the tin. It’s a childhood memoir. There are no great moments, no previously hidden insights on how to achieve greatness. But there is a l...more
Wole Soyinka gets rave reviews as a writer. Ake, is the Nigerian town where Wole grew up a boy. This is the story of Wole's childhood memories of the town and its people. HIs memories of his mom and dad are especially vivid. He is the son of a very strict headmaster and Wole is expected to act appropriately at all times. Being young and incredibly inquisitive and curious, Wole gets into lots of trouble, both physically and emotionally. His relentless inquiry at such a young age causes concern fo...more
Aug 09, 2010 Tinea rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tinea by: Brit landlord in Ethiopia's bookshelf
Shelves: place, auto-biography
Delightful little vignettes of Soyinka's childhood, ages 3 to 12 or so, growing up the headmaster's son in rural Nigeria around WWII. Soyinka's narration gets right inside his childish mind, and readers are left to interpret events through those eyes and whatever context we can come up with. This works most of the time but sometimes left me confused, especially when Soyinka neglected to translate a few local words or fill in some blanks for foreign readers. Overall, I liked the stories: climbing...more
Rhiannon Johnson
Wole Soyinka’s autobiography, Ake: the Years of Childhood, tells of a Nigerian boy’s daily life before and during World War II. His story originally focuses around his household and school, but becomes more emotionally intense as the story of his childhood progresses. This progression is not only because he is growing older, but because he has been given a political foundation from which to actively process and engage with his surroundings. He notices changes around him, specifically regarding w...more
I haven't read this for years, but I'm putting it up for Adri. One of my all-time favorites, a beautifully-written memoir of Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka's childhood, it changed the way I think about so many things. Last I heard, Soyinka was in prison in Nigeria for political activism, but that was a lot of years ago. So many fascinating themes as worlds collide: childhood and adulthood; tribal and "Christian" (not my personal idea of what Christianity is in any way); African and Western mat...more
Nicholas Whyte

Rather a sweet memoir of growing up as the headmaster's son in colonial Nigeria before and during the second world war. I liked it more than Chinua Achebe; there seemed to me to be more interrogation of political and gender power structures - one memorable scene has Soyinka's mother yelling her rage down the phone at the local British official at the Allies for bombing the (non-white) Japanese rather than the (white) Germans. The other point that grabbed...more
Anna Josephine
Apr 28, 2013 Anna Josephine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Global Readers, Jerra
Recommended to Anna Josephine by: Ling-Mei Petcher
To quote the back cover (because it's so lovely): "What if V.S. Naipaul were a happy man? What if V.S. Pritchett had loved his parents? What if Vladimir Nabakov had grown up in a small town in Western Nigeria ad decided that politics were not unworthy of him? [...] It is a company of children who grow up without forgetting anything, children who grow up in a garden of too many cultures" (John Leonard, New York Times)
This is an absolutely beautiful book about childhood, and about growing up in Af...more
I bought this book but then had to give it out, and I don't want it back. It was as if it was a book meant to show how much Soyinka was a child prodigy and whatnot.
Creighton Brown
Soyinka tells the story of his early years in Ake. The fascinating part about Soyinka's story is that he is Yoruba. Yoruba culture is flexible in that they can accept what would seem to be contradictory beliefs. He is Christian, but he retains traditional Yoruba beliefs. Soyinka's is the story of a hybrid identity. He comments on issues in his own community as well as worldwide calamities. The writing is great. Soyinka replicates, as best he can, the voice of his childlike self to tell the story...more
Wole Soyinka has an interesting story to tell and tells it well. The rich diversity of Nigeria accompanied by intense political times was filtered wonderfully through the lens of the young narrator. The subject of the narrative was good and the writing style of Soyinka elevates it more. I haven't read any of the other works by Wole Soyinka but Ake: the Years of Childhood makes me craving to pick them up.
Like the beginnings of James Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man," except the kid is cuter.

The story is told through the eyes of a boy growing up in pre-Independance Nigeria. The plot is non-linear, like life, but it's still funny and moving. Towards the end, the narrative focuses on the Women's War. Funny how such a female-empowering book has a little boy as a narrarator.
May 31, 2007 C. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: literature
What an incredible memoir - written by a Nobel Laureate using his childhood voice. Life in Nigeria in the 30s and 40s had its palette of issues - from politics to conflicting religions. His writing can be a bit thick - but if you stay with it there is a fascinating rhythm to his storytelling. Refreshingly different perspective of the world, from a relatively remote region of the world.
An interesting narrative about the writer's early childhood years in a village in western Nigeria. Soyinka is clearly a great writer, and while this book doesn't have a lot to hold it together it never lags. Most interesting about Soyinka's childhood, perhaps, is the cultural and religious syncretism of his environment.
Soyinka has been described as maverick and he is. He simply is not a novelist -the art of the novel demands a certain something that Ake simply cannot have since it is being 'told' directly by 'Soyinka'. Read this though since he streamed it as 'fact' --but read his essays, poems and plays for the 'real' Soyinka.
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Awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature for his work that "in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence."
More about Wole Soyinka...
Death and the King's Horseman: A Play The Lion and the Jewel You Must Set Forth at Dawn The Interpreters The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka

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