I stumbled upon Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ’wa Thiong’o as I was making my way out of the school library.
Even though I was running late for my next class, I remembered that one of my New Year resolutions had been to read more books by African authors so I quickly grabbed the book and skimmed through it, wondering whether the pursuit of good literature was justification for
Having read The Wizard of the Crow a while back, I expected Dreams in a Time of War to be a riveting narrative chock-full of political satire that was enough to amuse yet confuse an avid high school reader like me.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that although the memoir has political subtext, Ngũgĩ paints a vivid picture of what it was like to live in the chains of colonial Kenya.
From the conflicts between tradition and a rapidly changing culture to the effects that colonialism and war had on his own family, Ngũgĩ writes all, and leaves none behind.
The names were confusing to read at first, but that was only because I was not used to pronouncing them. One phone-a-friend later however, and I was soon pronouncing every word like it was born on my tongue. That’s what I love about Ngũgĩ’s books. They coerce your curiosity, they force you to learn something.
Those looking for Ngũgĩ’s trademark political satire might find the book a bit of a disappointment, but I believe that Ngũgĩ’s strength in writing lies in his ability to write anything, and make it good.
If you’re looking for a book on colonial Kenyan history that isn’t about the Ngong Hills or Lord Errol (the man, not the restaurant), then I recommend that you take a look at Dreams in a Time of War.
Even as a high school student, the narrative that this book provided took me deeper into Kenya’s history than I had ever been, and left me with a thirst
to be there, to physically experience the scenes and imagery that Ngũgĩ so expertly writes into this book.
I didn’t read Dreams in a Time of War, I experienced it. The book has kept me going for the past couple of weeks, mainly because it was so good that I was scared to finish it . If there’s anything that makes his denial of the Nobel Prize in Literature even more heartbreaking, it’s this book.