A Man And His Gods

“WHAT if V.S. Naipaul were a happy man? What if V.S. Pritchett had loved his parents? What if Vladimir Nabokov had grown up in a small town in western Nigeria and decided that politics were not unworthy of him?

I do not take, or drop, these names in vain. Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian novelist, playwright, critic and professor of comparative literature, belongs in their company. It is a company of children who grow up without forgetting anything, children who sing in a garden of too many cultures. Behind each shrub, there is an ambush of angel or demon.

Mr. Soyinka has already written one sort of autobiography, ”The Man Died,” and it was fine. But it was about adult life. ”Ake,” his account of his first decade, 1935 to 1945, is of another, higher order. It locates the lost child in all of us, underneath language, inside sound and smell, wide-eyed, brave and flummoxed. What Waugh made fun of and Proust felt bad about, Mr. Soyinka celebrates, by touching.” — From a 1982 NYT review of Ake: Years of Childhood. Read more