(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The eldest son of a primary-school headmaster and a devout Christian mother, Wole Soyinka lived a comfortable life in the Aké parsonage in Abeokuta. Soyinka’s father, called “Essay” by his son (for his initials S. A.), belonged to a tribal elder’s family, and his mother, whom he names “Wild Christian,” came from an influential family.

Soyinka was a self-confident, inquisitive, precocious child who started schooling when he was only three. The books, maps, and posters in the classroom seemed to make it the best playground he could imagine. Because his family lived in the walled church compound, it was only gradually that the little boy discovered the existence of a colorful and noisy world beyond the walls. His presence of mind and fearlessness astounded everyone when Soyinka, then four years old, became lost after following a street parade for miles. His incessant questions and self-reliant attitude set him apart from other children. Listening to the animated discussions about political and theological issues of his father and his friends—many of which were beyond his understanding—exposed him early to a rich world of ideas.

Like all autobiographies, Aké records interesting anecdotes, childhood adventures, and fond memories of friends and numerous relatives. However, what stands out in the narrative is the child’s perspective of the illogicality of the adult world. Soyinka’s devout Christian mother, his intellectual father, and his learned uncle, all strict interpreters of the Bible, firmly believed in character building by following the precept “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” Physical punishment and public humiliation were administered generously for the good of the miscreants. Much to his woe, the boy realized that what he considered inhumane treatment would continue even in the next school in the distant city. The students there were not permitted to wear shoes (his parents did not allow this either) nor permitted to have pockets in their school uniform. The connection between these...

(The entire section is 837 words.)