'Dreams in a Time of War' cover

Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir
By Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Harvill Secker, £12.99, 272 pages

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is an acclaimed writer and professor of English at the University of California. He was born in Kenya in 1938, the fifth child of one of four wives of a tenant farmer. The sheer distance of this life trajectory is breathtaking, yet this childhood memoir is as far from self-aggrandising as can be imagined.

His education came first from the stories heard around the hut fire of his eldest “mother”, then from the African-run schools that were breaking from colonialism, missionary dogma and the brutality of British rule.

While his brother joined the Mau Mau rebels in the mountains, Ngugi won a place at the country’s top high school, a privilege that earned him his first pair of shoes. The message of the book could be distilled into the words of a traditional song: “I will not ask you for a banquet / My father, all I ask for is education.”

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