Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)
The awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Wole Soyinka in 1986 recognized one of Africa’s most versatile and thoughtful authors and brought to world attention the reality and relevance of African literature as a whole. Through acquaintance with that literature, a greater understanding of African reality is possible. Aké contributes to that possibility by depicting, in a manner that is both quite literal and extremely sophisticated, some of the fundamental characteristics of that reality. In the contemporary debate about North-South relations, this depiction of a child’s world has a significant instructive role.
Aké, however, not only informs but also delights. Its artistic qualities reinforce and enhance the reasons that it is a work belonging to the world at large. The book’s tone is both light and knowing, and it re-creates the awe, unexpectedness, and whole-heartedness of childhood experience. In addition, its clear portrayal of memorable characters and its vivid sense of place ensure a permanent place for Aké in the literature of childhood. All these features act as lessons in openmindedness and tolerance, integrity and self-confidence. For these human qualities, as well as for its cultural importance, the classic status of Aké has been widely, and rightly, recognized.