I was walking through the Prestige Bookshop on Mama Ngina St. browsing though the titles, looking for books by an African author. I asked if “There was a country” by the late Chinua Achebe which I intended to buy for a friend. The book was out of stock, despite Wole Soyinka’s opinion that it was a book that should not have seen the light of day. So I asked myself, who is this Wole Soyinka to judge Chinua Achebe? I’d read all of Achebe’s novels but none by Wole Soyinka and I decided that well, this was a high time. This post is really about Wole Soyinka’s book and less about Chinua Achebe and how, despite his literary achievements, never got accorded the Nobel prize for literature. (RIP Achebe)
In Ake, Wole Soyinka tells of his growing up in West Africa in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Many of us have spent some part of our lives in rural Africa and can relate with some of the tales and lifestyle. There is the mixture of traditional beliefs and Christianity that characterize religion in Africa even to this day.
Wole grew up an inquisitive and bright boy. He nicknamed his mother Wild Christian and called his father Essay. He has a big sister, Tinu, and a small brother, Dipo. His father was indulgent of his argumentative ways while his mother tried to instill discipline in him, all with tender love.
There is no doubt that Wole is a master of the written word. He describes places, the sight, sounds and smells that transport you from a drab room in Nairobi today or a crowded matatu/train into the wide open fields and parsonage that was Ake in the 1930’s. He has the ability to make you see what he saw, live the life he lived as a young boy. You feel what he felt, and I did sniff back a tear when he was describing the death of Folasade, their youngest sister that lived for only a year.
The first page of the book is a description of the Ake parsonage and it’s tedious, but once the first page is done with, the book flows with the story, is full of humour and vivid descriptions of some of the defining events of Wole Soyinka’s early life.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, and I’m now looking for another of his memoirs: The Man Died. I think he’s talking about his father’s death, something already hinted at in the Ake memoir.
The book ends with him having sat for exams to get a scholarship to go to the Government College. Did he ever get the scholarship, I wonder? Okay, let me just Google and wonder no more.
Wole Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986.