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

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  1,109 Ratings  ·  85 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
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
May 12, 2008 Keleigh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: schooldaze
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
Jan 24, 2009 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
Temi Sanusi
3.5 Stars

It took me a while to read this book, but I'm glad I did. This book was charming, but read more like a series of short stories than a real novel. I guess that's how life is: a collection of our stories and experiences.

I loved being in young Wole Soyinka's head. He was curious and troublesome, and made me laugh on quite a few occasions. After reading it, however, I can't help but wonder how Mr. Soyinka could possibly remember all that happened to him as a child in such vivid detail. Perh
Feb 20, 2010 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2013 Bjorn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nigeria
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
Rhiannon Johnson
Dec 22, 2012 Rhiannon Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feminist, african
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
Nov 26, 2010 Lindsey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Marcia Letaw
A boy on a ladder, he's very young this boy, but he studies the world beyond the walls behind which he lives and using the knowledge gained finds the door through which the broader world can be accessed. Combining the wisdom of the child with the wisdom of the adult, Ake is a warm, sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, but always intimate memoir of Wole Soyinka's childhood as well as remembrance of a Nigeria that no longer exists. This a is rich and beautiful book which I recommend to one and all.
May 22, 2010 Wale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Nov 18, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is super good, Soyinka is a wonderful writer. He has so beautifully conveyed what his life was like as a child, and very cleverly restricted his story to telling only what he knew as a child. The scene where a young Soyinka follows along behind a marching band and gets lost is delightful.
Wendy Budetti
Sep 30, 2011 Wendy Budetti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Anne Lutomia
Jul 13, 2017 Anne Lutomia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-writers
Soyinke shares with the world memories of his childhood in Ake and later going to school. Raised by an educator, what we would now term as a feminist and a community of well meaning adults allows for him to position and give importance to the characters equally and raise intersecting issues such as social justice, mental illness, class, ethnic differences, colonialism, race relations to name a few. A good read to relatively understand the lives of Africans who grew up on the 40s and 60s as well ...more
John David
Apr 13, 2014 John David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
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
Christopher Okolo
Great tale of child and quest to stand out different
Feb 10, 2016 Thomas rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Soyinka's childhood memoirs are so detailed and finely drawn that the question has to be asked how much is true memory and how much owes itself to the adult writer's creativity. In writing a very impressionistic, sensually described narrative, Soyinka, it feels, is trying to capture the sense of infant discovery, of not entirely understanding your surroundings and the way the world works. There is confusion and mystery and wonder. All three combine to make Ake very difficult to read casually and ...more
Peter Eze
Jul 06, 2015 Peter Eze rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Ake, I was treated to a childhood delicacy of inviting sumptuousness which I attacked with great relish and washed down with smile and laughter, enjoying the peppery sensation down my throat. 

When I was done, I let out a blurb of satisfaction, relapsed into memory’s embrace and was transported into a life-world that exerted itself on me with nostalgic feeling both liberating because it allowed me the leisure feeling that feeling again, yet tyrannical because it refused me to live the feeling
Jan 05, 2015 Raisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reading the first few pages of Aké is like being grabbed by the scruff of your neck and being thrown into Nigeria. It's all heat, colour and unfamiliar words and names. And then, just as if you were suddenly thrust into a bustling market that you have to find your way out of, you begin to notice a certain order beneath the chaos. Helpful asterisks appear to explain the unfamiliar words, you start to keep track of names and voila, you're halfway through the story, before you know it.

A lot of wri
Oct 01, 2011 Philip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Victor Chizi
Nov 16, 2016 Victor Chizi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Wole Soyinka's Ake: The Years of Childhood is a memoir which tells an engaging story of the early phase of his life as a child.
Central to the memoir is Soyinka's father who happened to be a Headmaster with an eccentric behaviour, his mother, known as 'Wild Christian' and his siblings. The dynamics within the family is indeed a blend of tradition and the 'modern'.
Moreover, the contrast in the beliefs of his parents I think paints a better picture of some of the factors which shaped the mind of th
Jul 29, 2010 Tinea rated it liked it  ·  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
James F
The autobiography of the 1986 Nobel prize winner from about three or four to eleven. I don't generally like stories told from the perspective of young children, but this book was incredible; since it's nonfiction it's not required to be tragic, but it's not all nostalgia either; it is just fun to read, Soyinka comes across a bright, somewhat mischievous child; his parents, "Essay" and "Wild Christian" -- apparently its a cultural norm to refer to close relatives by nicknames -- are very interest ...more
Sep 20, 2009 Marcy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
A child's life in colonial Nigeria, 5 September 2015

This review is from: Ake: The Years of Childhood (Vintage International) (Paperback)
Nobel prize winning author Wole Soyinka recalls his early years in 30s/40s Nigeria. Son of a middle class Christian family (his father is a headmaster), the flavour of Yoruba society is nonetheless vividly evoked throughout, whether it's his pagan grandfather cutting his ankles in a coming of age ritual, his father's ideas on bringing up his family ("to him, sh
Aké - lapsuusvuodet on omaelämäkerrallinen teos, joka kertoo kirjailijan lapsuudesta 1930-luvun lopun ja -40-luvun alun Abeokutan kaupungissa. Wole on haaveiluun taipuvainen lapsi, joka kyselee paljon sellaisistakin asioista, jotka eivät hänelle vanhempien mielestä kuuluisi. Perheen talo on vieraanvarainen ja kaikille avoin, joten erilaisia ihmisiä kulkee sen lävitse koko Wolen lapsuuden ajan toisten jäädessä sinne pidemmäksi aikaa ja toisten vain poikkeavan kadotakseen sen jälkeen ikuisiksi ajo ...more
Scott Cox
This autobiography by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka describes his childhood and British/Christian education during the wartime years of 1940's in the western Nigerian village of Ake. One of my favorite stories was that of a group of three school children caught stealing and roasting a chicken. When being examined at the school court, Iku, ring leader and spokesman, gave the following defense: "It was this way, principal. There was I at the lower perimeter of the fields principal, with my friends ...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
Sep 06, 2015 Iria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gli undici anni di fanciullezza di Wole Soynka - nigeriano, premio Nobel per la letteratura nel 1986 -, che in questo romanzo autobiografico racconta il passaggio dalla fanciullezza all'età adulta, non solo suo come bambino e poi uomo ma anche di Aké, il paese dove è nato e cresciuto, e della società di Aké con le sue lotte, le sue difficoltà e le sue gioie quotidiane. Sullo sfondo, le vicende storiche che coinvolgono la Nigeria in quanto colonia inglese, gli albori della seconda guerra mondiale ...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
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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."
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