Ngūgī wa Thiong’o is born the fifth child of his father’s third wife, in a family that includes twenty-four children to four different mothers. He spends his 1930s childhood as the apple of his mother’s eye, before attending school to slake what is considered a bizarre thirst for learning.
As he grows up, the wider political social changes occurring in Kenya begin to impinge on the boy’s life in both inspiring and frightening ways. Through the story of his grandparents and parents, and his brothers’ involvement in the violent Mau Mau uprising, Ngūgī deftly etches a tumultuous era, capturing the landscape, the people and their culture, and the social and political vicissitudes of life under colonialism and war.
Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)
Published: 2010 | Publisher: Vintage Books | Pages: 256
I didn’t think this book would have such an impact on me. I was a bit emotional by the end of the novel. Every time I read a Kenyan novel, I’m hungry to learn more about the country’s past. This is a very touching memoir. Ngūgī wrote this with such love and care and I admire him a lot – especially his family, which was headed by his resilient mother.
Kenya’s history plays a large role in this book, for obvious reasons. It’s as if Kenya was a separate character on its own, being abused by colonial masters (the British) while tolerating several ethnic group divisions and tensions from its fellow citizens. Commentary on the civil war, Jomo Kenyatta – Kenya’s founding father, Mbiyu Koinange – a highly educated politician and Kenyatta’s right hand man, Mau Mau guerrillas, the politics of the Kenyan educational system, the role of the Indians in Limuru etc are all discussed at length in this memoir. If you are not familiar with Kenyan history, prior knowledge is not necessarily needed to enjoy this book because Ngūgī does a great job at thoroughly explaining various historical events. I was thrilled to read on how Black Americans like Booker T. Washington (through Tuskegee University), Martin Luther King Jr. and Marcus Garvey supported and played vital roles in encouraging Kenyan independence. I loved how there was unity of all peoples of African descent in demanding their freedom from white rule.
Don’t worry- this memoir is not all about politics. Readers get insights into the dynamics of Ngūgī’s polygamous family and the effects the family structure had on him. Family members like his mother, Good Wallace (his older brother), Kabae (one of his half brothers who fought in World War II) were important in shaping Ngūgī into the man he is now, for various (polarizing) reasons. Family units play a huge role in the future of children and this memoir demonstrates this heavily.
Ngūgī’s dedication to following his dreams even during Kenya’s unstable state was truly admirable. He had a passion for learning and thanks to a pact he made with his mother, he vowed to pursue his education – even in the times of war. The vicissitudes of life Ngūgī and his family faced in Kenya during the 1940’s will encourage you to keep fighting to achieve any personal goals or dreams you have. It’s wonderfully inspiring.
I feel like I’m a member of Ngūgī’s family now that I’ve read this! The only problem I had with this book was that there were too many different names to keep up with. Try and read this book in a couple of days in order to keep track of all the names mentioned. If you haven’t read any of this great novelist’s books yet, this could be a great place to start. I absolutely recommend this. Please pick it up if you can!
Purchase Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir on Amazon.
Darkowaa (@AwoDeee) is an American born Ghanaian, currently living where her heart feels most at home- Accra, Ghana. She doesn’t consider herself a writer or a bookworm… She prefers to call herself an African Book Addict! Books written by people of African descent / from the African diaspora excite her the most, and hopefully they’ll excite you too!
Review originally posted on AfricanBookAddict.com
Related country: Kenya