Camara Laye was born in Kouroussa, a town in what was then the colony of French Guinea. His family were Malinke (a Mandé speaking ethnicity), and he was born into a caste that traditionally worked as blacksmiths and goldsmiths. His mother was from the village of Tindican, and his immediate childhood surroundings were not predominantly influenced by French culture.
He attended both Koranic and French elementary schools in Kouroussa. At age fifteen he went to Conakry, the colonial capital, to continue his education. He attended vocational studies in motor mechanics. In 1947, he travelled to Paris to continue studying mechanics. There he worked and took further courses in engineering and worked towards the baccalauréat.