Of Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Kikuyu, Ngugi wa Thiongo was born in 1938 in the backlands of his country (Kiambu district) to a father whose four wives bore him two dozen or so children. Ngugi was the fifth child of the third wife. His father was a peasant farmer forced to become a squatter after the British Imperial Act of 1915. Before going off to school, he had what was then considered a bizarre and inexplicable thirst for learning. He spent his early years, as World War II affected the lives of Africans under British colonialism in surprising and unexpected ways, living in a family compound, very much the apple of his mother's eye. In Dreams in a Time of War he richly evokes a bygone era, capturing with a novelist's eye the landscape, the people (his grandparents, parents and siblings) and their culture, the social and political vicissitudes of life under colonialism and war, and the troubled relationship between non-Christians and Christians. Too, he deftly etches how the native, anti-colonial insurgency, the Mau Mau rebellion (1952-1963) - which failed militarily but may have hastened Kenyan independence - informed not only his but the lives of those closest to him. His mother would be tortured, a stepbrother killed.
Dreams in a Time of War abounds with at once delicate and powerful subtleties and complexities that are movingly told.
©2010 NgUgi wa Thiong'o (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
Just coincidentally I heard this book immediately after listening to Angela's Ashes. I was really struck by the similarity between these two books set in very different worlds so I can't help but compare the two. And, maybe this type of review will be helpful to some since many people are familiar with Angela's Ashes but Dreams in a Time of War is not nearly as well known.
Both books are memoirs told of a turbulent time in the histories of countries (Ireland and Kenya) that were terribly traumatized by British rule and both are told from a child's point of view. Both books are also told first person by a child of an impoverished and ultimately broken family and both boy narrators end the memoir at the point of his escape from/triumph over poverty and politics. Although there is a huge dollop of tragedy in both narratives, there is not much focus given to the tragic in Dreams because you feel in the Kenyan author the ever present desire for knowledge, education, and learning that seems to keep this little boy from being trapped in the desperation that surrounds him. In addition, Ngugi wa'Thiong'o, unlike Frank McCourt, was blessed with a mother who does not give into or allow her children to give into the despair. Ngugi wa'Thiong'o's mother is as inspirational a character in this book as the author himself. Angela's Ashes made me cry and laugh but much of the book just left me feeling depressed and despising the ignorance of the world. Unlike Angela's Ashes, Dreams in a Time a War never made me cry and the humor is more wry than laugh out loud, but there is a strong sense of a child's ability to find joy and wonder in even a rough world that keeps this book uplifting throughout. This is an inspirational story told with a nice mix of Kenyan culture, politics, and history thrown in. The narrative is short, interesting and tells you just enough of that period of history to make you want to know a lot more.
The narration by Hakeem Kae-Kazim is quite good. He has a deep rich voice that is really pleasant to listen to with an African accent that sounds appropriate but was never difficult for my American ears to understand. His voice is so nice that I think it might be more fun to listen to this book than to read it with one small drawback. There are many minor characters in the book and the African names so sound similar to me that I had a little trouble trying to keep them straight since I was not seeing them in print.
I think most people would enjoy this memoir and if you liked Angela's Ashes, I am sure you would like Dreams in a Time War. I recommend it.
Enjoyable and informative, definitely worth reading if you are curious to know more about the Mau Mau Rebellion 1952-1960 which lead to Kenyan Independence from Britain in 1963. Laid before you are the author's childhood memories up to his acceptance and arrival at high school. He is today a famed, contemporary African writer. This book focuses upon his quest for education, something all too many of us take for granted. It is about native Kenyan life. He was born in 1938, the fifth child of his father's third wife. Twenty-four siblings, four mothers, what is it like to be one in a polygamous family? You learn about life as one of the Kikuyu ethnic group in colonial Africa. Their land was taken from them, not once, but four times. Their culture was denied. There is a lot of history here, and it is not always told linearly. Furthermore the names are difficult, more so if you are listening to it as an audiobook. The narration by Hakeem Kai-Kazim is at times difficult to follow, particularly when the trial of Jomo Kenyatta is related with an angry tone, in an effort to emphasize the injustice of the events. I had to look on Wiki (Mau Mau Upprising and Jomo Kenyatta) to fully understand the scattered events splayed before me. It helped to see the names, to tie up the different threads. The book gives more depth than just reading at Wiki. What was his life like? How was it to have one brother as a Mau Mau rebel and another supporting the colonials? And what is it like to fight for the right to an education, to achieve that when you have no food, no shoes, no books and sometimes no light at all to work by. He succeeded. He didn't just succeed, he succeeded magnificently. His mother always asked him, "Is that your best?"
The prime message of this book is clear. Look at the title. In times of "war", we must have dreams to survive.
I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in history and foreign cultures. It is very approachable and goes out of it's wait to explain social customs and historical background in an approachable way. I got this because I'm visiting Kenya but really anyone would probably enjoy it.
The Covenant by Michener satisfies the same urge for a historical drama about African history, though it's about South Africa, covers a much wider timespan (from ancient times to modern) and was written by a non-African. This book is much more local and personal, but still manages to cover the main social and political events in Kenya's history through the eyes of the young boy.
Well first he just plain sounds African at least to my stereotype-susceptible ears, which gives a great feel to the book. Pronunciation of hard words like names and places is also very well handled considering how non-english a lot of the text in the book is. This is an emotional audio book that at least to me feels in touch with the storytelling/oral-history nature of the Kenyan society that Ngogi describes.
I laughed but didn't cry. Many tragic things happen but it's not really a tear jerker. It is very inspiring though.
Thanks Audible! I was afraid I wouldn't have time to get through a Kenya book before my trip. Once I started this one though I could barely stop.
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