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Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  408 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
By the world-renowned novelist, playwright, critic, and author of Wizard of the Crow, an evocative and affecting memoir of childhood.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born in 1938 in rural Kenya to a father whose four wives bore him more than a score of children. The man who would become one of Africa’s leading writers was the fifth child of the third wife. Even as World War II affect
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2005)
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Aug 03, 2014 Cheryl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Readers of colonial and post colonial memoirs, history fanatics
Even when not reading it, I can hear the music. The choice and arrangements of the words, the cadence, I can’t pick any one thing that makes it so beautiful and long-lived in my memory. I realize that even written words can carry the music I loved in stories, particularly the choric melody. And yet this is not a story; it is a descriptive statement. It does not carry an illustration. It is a picture in itself and yet more than a picture and a description. It is music. Written words can also sin
Jenny (Reading Envy)
I wish I had read this after reading Thiong'o's fiction. I will do that someday. This is an account of his childhood in Kenya from 1938 until he enters highschool/secondary school. This is during the time of the Mau Mau Uprising, which had a direct impact on his daily life.

I know people who were missionaries in Kenya directly after this period, so it filled in some gaps for me. Call me naive but I didn't really understand post-WWII colonialism very well. Goodness.

I loved seeing him in the role
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 ...more
Mar 22, 2015 Darkowaa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't think this book would have such an impact on me. The ending had me in tears. Every time I read a Kenyan novel, I'm more eager to learn about the country's past- its such a great country. This is a very, very touching novel. Ngugi wrote this with such love and care - well, obviously, its his childhood memoir! But honestly, I admire and respect him a lot - especially the family he came from and his mother. Family units play a HUGE role in the future of children and this novel demonstrates ...more
Moses Kilolo
Apr 06, 2012 Moses Kilolo rated it really liked it
All known truths lead to the fact that Ngugi is an iconic figure not only in Kenyan but African as well as the world literature. But where did he come from, and what was it like during his baby steps and subsequent ascend? Well, in this brilliantly captured childhood memoir, Ngugi tells of his time growing up in colonial Kenya and its coincidence with the fight for freedom. Its inevitable that he'd write about politics, his books contain so much of it, and Kenyan history indeed. I just read Cama ...more
Oct 05, 2012 Philip rated it it was amazing
Put simply, Dreams In A Time Of War by Ngugi wa Thiong’o is a beautiful book. But it is also challenging, engaging, shocking, endearing and enraging at the same time. It also offers truly enlightening insight into the psychology, motivation and eventual expression of a great writer. Anyone who ha admired Ngugi’s A Grain of Wheat will adore Dreams In A Time Of War, because the fiction that rendered the novel such a complex and rewarding read is here as reality, in all its greater rawness of immed ...more
Feb 09, 2011 Virginia rated it liked it
I first read about this book on Christianity Today's website under their book reviews and was so intrigued! This book really was quite the history lesson on Kenya and an immense culture shock. The reason it took me so long (it was just two sessions of reading separated by a few weeks) is because the subject matter is so hard. It's silly because Thiong'o really doesn't dwell on the suffering (nor does he gloss over it). However, the history of Kenya is a hard thing. It hurts my heart to read abou ...more
May 26, 2012 Wangui rated it it was amazing
I really want to read the rest of his memoirs now after reading this childhood one-I almost didn't believe it when the book ended right as he got to high school.
The story of Ngũgĩ's childhood life not only gives insight into life and the pursuit of knowledge at a time in Kenya's history when for political and economic reasons neither was easy; but also was a window into the country's history and the culture of the Agikũyũ.
For example, I enjoyed finding out about tradition as practised by his un
Jan 18, 2016 Booknblues rated it really liked it
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 forme
Thuita Wachira
Apr 10, 2013 Thuita Wachira rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the gave me a rare insight into life as a young boy in colonial Kenya. I identified completely with the environment, cultures and life depicted in the book especially since it was set in Central Kenya. Its historical lessons aside, i found the stories in the book powerful and masterfully told: a common characteristic for all of Ngugi's books. I found it a bit short though, and i felt some of the more interesting characters and relationships Ngugi brought ou ...more
Margaret Sankey
Dec 23, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it really liked it
Like Isabelle Allende's memoirs, this is illuminating background on the author's real life inspiration for his novels. While describing life in a traditional polygamous pastoral-farming family, he also shows the steady erosion of landownership as WWI and II British veterans were given acreage taken from African inhabitants, the presence of Italian POWs building roads, the fierce fights over the content of school teaching materials, the shopkeeping Indians (also forbidden to own land) and their t ...more
Jul 02, 2013 Michael rated it really liked it
I had the great privilege to hear the author speak at Howard University. All the English 101 classes were reading his recent book of essays. I was very impressed with him. No wonder he is one of the most important African writers today. I look forward to reading this book. (I've just begun.) And I look forward to reading his second memoir, which recently came out.
May 13, 2010 Nnedi rated it really liked it
i love anything this man writes. but i wish this had been a bit more about ngugi and less about politics.
Jun 09, 2011 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: review-books
I feel incredibly ignorant after reading this book. The Swahili language is so far beyond my comprehension and every name in the book is Swahili - they do live in Kenya after all. So it was really hard for me to keep people straight. If the name appeared on the same page as the initial description of who that person was, it was okay. But beyond that, I was lost. I also expected to read about a childhood ravaged by war, and though Ngugi did have a childhood beyond anything I experienced in my whi ...more
Graham Herrli
Sep 01, 2015 Graham Herrli rated it it was ok
Thiong'o provides insight into the social structure of Kenya in the mid twentieth century. I was surprised by the similarity between the family structure he describes and that which Achebe describes in Things Fall Apart, despite the considerable geographic and temporal separation between the two books. Both feature compounds in which a patriarchal male lives in a central hut with the huts of his wives arrayed around him. Thiong'o's mother, much like Achebe's Okonkwo, is able easily to relocate t ...more
Dec 17, 2013 Kyrea rated it it was amazing
Kenya's most prolific writer explores his childhood between the end of the 2nd world war and the period of the state of emergency in colonial Kenya. He lived not far from where my dad was born and so it was interesting hearing of familiar places in strange times, in the 50's. It is definitely worth a read as it is not just some random reminiscing but draws out some of the complexities of Gikuyu culture in the face of big clashes with colonial education, changing social and ethnic landscape, new ...more
Sep 15, 2014 Unwisely rated it liked it
The stories in this book, while non-fiction, are so otherworldly that they may as well be fantasy (replete with the extended family and names I'm not sure how to pronounce).

That said, it's a dreamy walk through growing up African in Kenya during and after WW2. No radio, no power, constantly changing colonial policies (but still nothing favorable for the residents). Yet the author survived and emerged and apparently lives in California. Very interesting account of another time and place.
Mariana Silva
Feb 04, 2016 Mariana Silva rated it it was amazing
Maravilhoso! Virou meu livro favorito. Acompanhamos a história de Ngugi de uma forma tão pessoal, com seus medos, ensinamentos, felicidades que é impossível não se apegar e torcer por ele. O livro traz a magia dos olhos de uma criança com grandes sonhos em meio a conturbada história contemporânea do Quênia. Tradicão e colonização se confrontam e se misturam na vida do menino estudante, nos levando a um desfecho de arrepiar. Simplesmente incrível!
Carolyne Gathuru
Dec 31, 2015 Carolyne Gathuru rated it liked it
A vivid narration of childhood times in the pre and colonial period. The experiences of love, laughter, trials and triumphs as seen through young eyes is captivating and makes up for the rather uncoordinated and repetitive sections of the book. The continuous enumeration of paradoxes provides for reflective reading.
Jun 03, 2010 Kirsten rated it really liked it
Shelves: from-library, memoir
This book was slow going because I was mostly reading it during my lunch hour at work, but it's a good read. Ngugi wa Thiong'o is an acclaimed author, and in this memoir he tells of his life growing up in Kenya during WWII and the Mau Mau uprising. When I started reading this book, I knew very little about Kenyan history, so this made some of the events difficult to follow. On the other hand, it has spurred me to learn more about the greater political climate at the time. Sometimes the book can ...more
Craig Werner
Aug 11, 2013 Craig Werner rated it liked it
Shelves: africa
Reads like the first book of what's likely to be a series of autobiographical writings. Ending with Ngugi embarking upon his higher education, soon to be followed by a literary career that ranks with those of Achebe and Soyinka among African writers of the independence generation, the book focuses on the details of a childhood lived in a confusing transitional time. Ngugi provides sharp portraits of Gikuyu life--the complex family structures, the joys and sorrows of childhood played out against ...more
Dec 17, 2012 Diane rated it it was amazing
I loved learning through this memoir what it was like to be a young boy in Kenya as it reached for independence. Ngugi has a smooth, accomplished, beautiful prose style that makes reading the book as easy as slipping like a fish through water. Every now and then there's a section of historical background that takes a little more effort, especially with the names of organizations and places, but these add dimension and context to the boy's experiences. This if my favorite way to learn about place ...more
Casca Amanquah Hackman
Jun 08, 2014 Casca Amanquah Hackman rated it really liked it
Shelves: auto-biography
Great book from my favourite African writer. I am particularly impressed with the sides of the story he has over the years fused into a number of his books, notably, Weep Not Child and The River Between.
May 07, 2014 Cathy rated it liked it
Shelves: culture, memoir, africa
Ngugi highlights a tense time in Kenya as the country struggled against British occupation. While the history was fascinating to see from an insider perspective, and Ngugi gives rich portraits of some of his family, the book disappointed me overall. The reading felt scattered and his telling of the history was often confusing-- sometimes to the point of incoherence. I wished he had told the story with a better eye to his broader audience. I think it is important that we non-Africans understand t ...more
HL English
It was okay, I liked it better than I thought I would but it wasn't really my type of book
Jujhar Singh
Aug 26, 2014 Jujhar Singh rated it liked it
Great historical insight. I had no idea what Kenya went through under the British. A very honest book.

Just a bit boring at times, I found the pace occasionally trying.
Jan 03, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this memoir set in Kukuyuland in 1950s Kenya. Ngugi wa Thiong'o insightful novels Weep not Child and Petals of Blood were, & I presume still are, on the curriculum in East African schools. He describes with crisp prose his social life, curiosity about colonial politics and family rebels. As a kid he was observant, in love with the printed word and fascinated by his extended family. I am looking forward to part two...
Feb 10, 2015 Rachael rated it really liked it
Ngugi's story is a miraculous one in that he is able to place himself in the context of the political times in Nigeria and still grow and reflect and explore the magnificence of life as a child and budding writer. This is part one in a two part memoir (along with In the House of the Interpreter) focusing on colonization and access to education for young Africans amidst corruption and then all the normal things children go through - like parental love/guidance/or neglect, love interest, friendshi ...more
Paul Heidebrecht
Feb 14, 2011 Paul Heidebrecht rated it it was amazing
Ngugi is probably Kenya's finest living writer even though he has spent much of his adult life in exile. Now in his 70s, he lived through the end of colonial rule in Kenya and the early years of Kenyan independence. This book is a memoir of his growing-up years in a Kenya that seems so distant and yet profoundly attractive. He takes us back to rural life in polygamous family tolerating the blatantly racist rule of British settlers and the British government. Ngugi also describes his encounters w ...more
Bobby Johansen
May 04, 2015 Bobby Johansen rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed this memoir of Ngūgī wa Thiong'o. His writing and storytelling abilities were quite good. Learning about his childhood in Kenya makes me want to read some of his novels.
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Kenyan teacher, novelist, essayist, and playwright, whose works function as an important link between the pioneers of African writing and the younger generation of postcolonial writers. After imprisonment in 1978, Ngũgĩ abandoned using English as the primary language of his work in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue. The transition from colonialism to postcoloniality and the crisis of modernity ha ...more
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“Written words can also sing.” 9 likes
“Surely my mother could do anything to which she set her mind” 1 likes
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