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Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir Paperback – March 8, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Celebrated African author and activist Thiong'o tells no ordinary coming-of-age tale. The fifth child of his father's third wife—one of an extended family whose collective experiences range from rural farming and carpentry to WWII rifleman—Ngugi skillfully recounts the challenges and calamities of growing up in British-occupied Kenya. Born in 1938, he recalls a boyhood framed by his pursuit of education (he had a unspoken pact with his mother to always do his best) and by his developing awareness of nationalist politics. Through teachers and local storytellers he hears of such world figures as Winston Churchill, Jomo Kenyatta, and Jesse Owens; at home he eventually discovers that within his own family there are both Mau Mau rebels and colonial sympathizers. Tensions between tradition and modernity, a theme Ngugi explored in his first novel, 1964's Weep Not Child), become apparent in his fascination with the Old Testament and Christianity, and his fear when he is interrogated by military authorities. For readers, sequential time surrenders to a sense of narrative and an engaging humanity. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

When Ngugi is accepted into an elite high school in Kenya, worried about where to get a pair of shoes, his brother is a Mau Mau guerrilla in the mountains. The world-renowned Kenyan writer looks back at his growing up in the 1950s in this crisp, clearly told memoir, which evokes the rising African nationalism of the era in all its conflict and complexity. The many fans of Ngugi’s fiction will feel the truth of the young man’s viewpoint and applaud his blasting of stereotypes about the country the whites had “discovered.” Marcus Garvey is Ngugi’s inspiration, both for his sense of self-reliance and for his ideas about nationalism versus the missionary and colonial projects, “which always assumed the fragility of the African mind.” He remembers “settler newspapers” that portray terrorist massacre “without rhyme or reason” while the freedom fighters have no media to voice their side. A fascinating look at twentieth-century African history, but also a moving intellectual odyssey in which Ngugi learns to revere both modernity and tradition but to reserve a healthy skepticism of both. --Hazel Rochman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307476219
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307476210
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #310,659 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Ngugi wa Thiong'o is reputedly one of the greatest living African writers of fiction. ("Reputedly", because I have not read any of Ngugi's fiction nor much of other noted African authors, such as Peter Abrahams and Chinua Achebe.) Ngugi was born in 1938 in Kenya, and grew up in Limuru, a town about one hour from Nairobi. By virtue of being born when he was, Ngugi, as a youth and young adult, lived amidst the turmoil of social and political life in Kenya as it went from oppressive colonialism, through revolution, and on into oppressive post-colonial dictatorship. Ngugi left Kenya in 1977, since when he has lived in the United States, teaching at Yale, NYU, and University of California, Irvine.

DREAMS IN A TIME OF WAR is Ngugi's memoir of his childhood, until, at the age of 16, he left home to begin secondary education at a highly selective high school. His father had four wives and 24 children. During Ngugi's youth, his father and mother became estranged, and she left the homestead to live with her father, taking Ngugi and a younger brother with her. His mother clearly was an unusual woman of considerable fortitude and character. She helped fan within Ngugi a burning desire for education and then sacrificed herself in various ways to enable him to pursue that education. But their dreams of education had to be pursued during parlous times of unrest and violence, and hence the title of Ngugi's memoir.

For me, the chief value of the book is the picture it gives of native Kenyan life in a rapidly changing world - of such matters as family customs within an extended, polygamous family, traditional rites like circumcision, and communal story-telling.
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Format: Hardcover
In his work "Dreams in a Time of War," Wa Thiong'o evaluates his childhood with the eye of a veteran writer (who is now 72). Yet he keeps the freshness of the child just learning of the world.

Born in 1938, Ngugi was a small child during WWII and an adolescent during the beginning of the Mau Mau uprising. He experienced these events as I experienced the Iran Hostage Crisis - through stories told by my parents and others and snipets of news sources.

Yet, through his memories, and parenthetical explanations written by the 72 year old, we receive the flavor of life in late colonial Kenya. Interestingly, he defines the end of childhood not at his circumcision ceremony or any of the Western ages of "adulthood", instead he ends his "Childhood Memoir" at the point he enters high school.

Through this work we get a child's image of the themes that will permeate Wa Thiong'o's adult writings - Christianity, Colonialism, Traditionalism and the balance between the world Britain stole and the modern world.

Wa Thiong'o is still the master storyteller we met a half a century ago in A Grain of Wheat or The River Between. This story of a child who weaves his way into the modern world kept me excited to read the next section and disappointed when my subway stop would come and make me suspend reading. 4 ½ stars!
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Ngugi wa Thiong’o is one of Kenya's most famous writers. Over the years, I've read a few of his novels -- The River Between (1965), Petals of Blood (1977), and the masterful Wizard of the Crow (2006). Both of the earlier two novels are set against the backdrop of the Mau Mau rebellion, an uprising against the British colonial government by Kenyans - mostly Kikuyus - in the 1950s.

Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, tells the story of Thiong'o's early life, through the mid-1950s when he was admitted to high school. As with several of Thiong'o's novels, this story also takes place against the backdrop of Mau Mau. It's a fascinating account, and it balances the personal with the political. On the personal side, Thiong'o tells of growing up in a polygamous household and of his mother's efforts to get him to school. His mother and father split when he was a child, and he becomes the scribe to his maternal grandfather. He gives an account -- the first I've read -- of going through the circumcision ceremony, the rite of passage that makes him a man.

At the same time, he describes the political excitement and tension of the time. In the course of Mau Mau, his uncle goes to the mountains to fight, and Thiong'o himself is detained by colonial police on the way home from a religious meeting. The political and the personal intersect repeatedly.

With little access to newspapers - and those filtered by colonial authorities - he and his friends rely on semi-informed and highly creative informants: "Ngandi, like some of his audience, has to read between the lines of the settler-owned newspapers and government radio. But he enriches what he gleans here and there with rich creative interpretation.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o describes his childhood and coming of age in Kenya in the 1940's and 1950's. It is a really touching story of a young boy's thirst for knowledge and clearly provides the perspective of a native of Kenya.

Ngugi describes what life was like for him growing up in Kenya in a polygamous family. His father had four wives and many children. Ngugi's mother was the third wife and Ngugi lived in her hut with his full siblings. The wives formed close relationships with each other as did the children. Early in life, Ngugi made a solemn promise to his mother to attend school and to his best possible if she would make the sacrifices necessary for him to go to school.

This book really presents what life was like for Ngugi through the innocence of a child's eyes. We learn about who his friends were and what he did for fun. We also discover his heartbreak and travails when his father divorced his mother and she returned to live with her father. We begin to see the unfairness of the colonial rule when Ngugi's brother returns to Kenya after fighting in Burma in World War II and these former soldiers are not given equal treatment or justly credited or rewarded for their assistance.

Dreams in a Time of War describes the beginnings of what is commonly termed the Mau Mau Rebellion through a child's eyes and the confusion of having members of his family on different sides during the rebellion.

This was an enlightening read for me and I appreciated being able to see this through the innocence of a child.
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