Book Review: Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Title: Dreams in a Time of War
Author: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
My Rating: ♥♥♥♥

I was glad that this book was chosen along with Born a Crime by Trevor No6716861ah for my monthly bookclub. I haven’t read many books about Africa or by African authors, and I haven’t traveled to that part of the world at all, and I think reading books like these is one of the best ways to learn about the history of different parts of the world.

Thiong’o’s childhood memoir certainly didn’t disappoint me. He grew up in Kenya in the ’40s and ’50s, which was a time of intense turmoil in that country. This book is a collection of the author’s recollections from early childhood right up to the time he leaves for high school. He is a wonderful storyteller, and he expertly weaves in history “lessons” and interesting, engaging stories.

The anecdotes are told mostly from the point of view of the child that the author was when the events happened. I think this lends a charming perspective to the story, and it lets the reader do a bit of their own thinking about what went on. Now I really want to read some more of Thiong’o’s works to see if and how his perspective changed as he grew up and moved to the western world.

I would also love to know more about Thiong’o’s mother, and I wonder if any of his other books go into more detail about her. She is a strong woman. She was kicked out by her husband, basically because her livestock and agriculture were doing better than his at a time when he was down and out. At the same time, she had two sons fighting on opposite sides of a horrible war. And all the while, she encourages Ngũgĩ to always do his best. You get the feeling that she doesn’t even really have a goalpost against which to measure his achievements, because every time he tells her about something she replies with “But is that the best you could have done?” even when he gets into the prestigious high school. Nonetheless, he is inspired and encouraged by her throughout his childhood.

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