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Aké: The Years of Childhood

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,502 ratings  ·  124 reviews
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
Paperback, 230 pages
Published October 23rd 1989 by Vintage (first published 1981)
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Ma There isn't an ebook, but Internet archive has a scanned copy that you can borrow for an hour at a time.…moreThere isn't an ebook, but Internet archive has a scanned copy that you can borrow for an hour at a time.

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Jun 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nobels
"It is time to commence the mental shifts for admittance to yet another irrational world of adults and their discipline."

The closing lines of this childhood memoir made me smile. What a mistake to underestimate the rationality of children while overestimating that of grown-ups! To a child, the grown-up rules and routines, their ideas and dogmas, seem overwhelmingly crazy. The pedagogical value of forbidding shoes in a school remains a mystery, both to the young boy about to change schools yet a
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
Samir Rawas Sarayji
I often forgot I was reading a memoir. Instead, I was there with little Wole, following him around as he explored and learned and discovered. I could see his home and village and school. More importantly, I could feel the presence of Essay, Wild Christian, Father, Tinu and I got scared when he got scared, or bold when he got bold. I heard his questions, oh so many questions he would pester everyone with, that at the ripe age of four he already had a reputation as a too curious-for-his-own-good c ...more
May 12, 2008 rated it liked it
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
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
Now, here is Ayo, very ambitious for you. He wants to send his son into battle and believe me, the world of books is a battlefield, it is an even tougher battlefield than the ones we used to know. So how does he prepare him? By stuffing his head with books. But book-learning, and especially success in book-learning only creates other battles. Do you know that?

May 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 20, 2010 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 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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.
May 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
I’ve just finished reading this in preparation of a visit to my wife’s country and city of birth: Lagos, Nigeria.

Well it did what I’d hoped: provided insight into Yoruba society in the early part of the 20th Century and an insight into Wole Soyinka’s character.

Is it an absolutely outstanding novel in terms of plot, writing, character development etc? I didn’t think so, but it was still a very enjoyable memoir to read by one of Nigeria’s literary masters! Definitely worth picking up if you’re int
Bob Newman
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The Flavor of Childhood is Universal

I've never been to Nigeria, nor even West Africa, and though I've known many Nigerians, including a number of Yoruba, I could never say, until I read AKÉ, THE YEARS OF CHILDHOOD, that I had any real idea about where they came from. You can read other Nigerian writers---Tutuola, Achebe, Ekwensi, Nzekwu, Amadi---or listen to Nigerian music from Fela, Ebenezer Obey, `King' Sunny Ade, or Olatunji---there's a vast world of Nigerian culture, but until you've read So
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
Nov 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 18, 2015 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.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I liked so many things in the book, particularly noteworthy in a savoury searing recollection: a spontaneous embrace of solitude seen in a young boy spending long hours in 'his' tree; a willful principal of transnational experience engaged in resolute punitive handling of his students; a young housemaid shoved from street to street with intermittent profanities rained on her as a necessary cure for bed-wetting; a procession of rightfully protesting empowered women without fear of scorn or dogged ...more
Peter Eze
Jul 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely wonderful.
I kept laughing heartily at scenes i could not only relate too but remember as a part of my own childhood. There were so many a familiar story, lores and ubiquitous narratives of my own formative years. But most especial where the weighing realizations on how so many things turned out the way they did in today's Nigeria.
Ake is essentially a if-you-close-your-mind-you'll-miss-it slingshot into the Yoruba side of the story of Pre-colonial Nigeria.
Now it makes sense why the Kut
Feb 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Aké. Hmm
I love how Wole Soyinka told the story. So descriptive. You could almost picture or imagine yourself in there growing up with him.

He was such a stubborn, inquisitive and adventurous young man and I can’t help but think those were the qualities that made him who he is today. I watched him on the news two days ago talking about President Buhari and it was amazing because he has always been passionate and vocal even as a child and it’s good to see he still is.

It was a good read. There we
Emmanuel Mandela
Dec 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ake was an interesting read emanating Soyinka's sense of humour. Soyinka was a serial mischief maker and the wit with which he detailed his childhood mischievousness is quite interesting. I even saw a reflection of my own parental upbringing in Wole's story. I learnt how to avoid the stinging of bees from this narration. It is a book one could enjoy over glasses of red wine. ...more
Brad Edmondson
Aug 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Kind of disjointed but occasionally vivid autobiographical writing. A good character sketch of a precocious and difficult child, and also of a Nigerian village in the 1930s and 1940s. Ends with a rave-up account of a women's rights uprising, for some strange reason. ...more
Wendy Budetti
Sep 30, 2011 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
This book offers a lot of interesting vignettes, particularly on the theme of the strangeness and inconsistency of adult behavior in the eyes of a child. But I was rarely completely sucked in. Mostly I think I failed this book as a reader.
Daniel Polansky
Recollections of the author's early childhood in a town in pre-independence Nigeria. The dreamlike patina of childhood adds a fascinating dimension to the myths and customs of a culture now lost (Soyinka is brief but brutal on the effects of post-colonial globalization on his homeland), and the stories of his loving, enlightened family, and precocious academic career are a joy. Beautifully written, funny and engaging, as good a work about childhood as you are likely to read. Lots of fun. ...more
Jul 22, 2020 rated it did not like it
Really struggled to finish this book. Found it boring and uneventful
John David
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 10, 2016 rated it liked it
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
Oct 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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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

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