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In the House of the Interpreter

(Memoirs #2)

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  288 ratings  ·  49 reviews
With black-and-white illustrations throughout

World-renowned Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright, and literary critic Ngugý wa Thiong’o gives us the second volume of his memoirs in the wake of his critically acclaimed Dreams in a Time of War.
In the House of the Interpreter richly and poignantly evokes the author’s life and times at boarding school—the first secondary educati
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published November 6th 2012 by Pantheon (first published November 1st 2012)
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3.92  · 
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 ·  288 ratings  ·  49 reviews

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Thuita Wachira
May 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lovely read. I liked that it was for the most part set in my Alma Mater, and the authors views and perspectives of the outside world from Alliance High School, repeatedly referred to as the "sanctuary" in the book. As a fan of of Ngugi, i was treated to an insight into his formative years (intellectually)..which has deepened my understanding of his works.

Highly recommend it. Best read and appreciated after reading the prequel, dreams in a time of war.
Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all)
This book buttonholed me and drew me into its world. I could not put it down until I'd finished it. Oh, well, I had to put it down to work and cook and eat and shower, but other than that it demanded my undivided reader's attention. The title is drawn from The Pilgrim's Progress and the book is a memoir, but also a parable, of Kenya in the 195os. It made an interesting contrast to Out in the Midday Sun, which told the same events from a white colonial's point of view--meaning two totally differe ...more
Henry Sienkiewicz
Jan 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up as a reader for the Arts Club of Washington's Marfield Prize. It was a very, very enjoyable read. I thought that I understood the dynamics of the colonial time, but gained more insights than I thought was possible.
Mish Middelmann
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Flows with the gentle irresistible power of a river, and as many eddies and layers of cool, warm and hot. What a wonderful Christmas present to receive the second volume of this great writer's memoirs, following on from Dreams in a Time of War. As always the personal is political: through Ngugi's high school years I got so much insight into what was happening in Kenya around the time I was born.

The personal is also personal: the book is full of sweet stories of what it is to be a schoolboy - an
John Benson
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is Ngugi wa Thiong'o's 2nd memoir and tells of his years at Alliance Academy. When I was in high school at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary children, Alliance was one of our sports rivals. Thiong'o wrote of this place 20 years before my time at RVA, in the 1950s during the Mau Mau years. Alliance Academy was considered the best "African" secondary school during those years. I enjoyed seeing the similarities between these two boarding schools that were so close together. ...more
Nov 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
The latest book by Ngũgĩ picks up his life story where his childood memoir, Dreams in a Time of War, left off. It is April 1955, and the Kenyan Emergency, also known as the Mau Mau Uprising, is raging throughout the country. The Mau Mau, a group of Kikuyu freedom fighters, are at war with the colonial British government in an effort to achieve independence, after repeated cries to address grievances against their people were systematically ignored. The Mau Mau specialize in lightning quick strik ...more
Mar 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Moving memoir. Makes one appreciate being born in the U.S. Between colonialism and guerrilla war fare, the citizens of Kenya are constantly fighting to be heard and to be free. Ngugi catalogs his high school journey at the prestigous Alliance Academy. He was one of the fortunate ones chosen to further their education. During the four years he was away at school, his village was razed and his brother and mother imprisoned. A wonderful coming-of-age story both courageous and heartbreaking. I am so ...more
Nicholas Benequista
Dec 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Captures the contradictions and complexities of education under the colonial system. Enjoyable throughout, but has an exceptionally gripping conclusion.
Dec 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This was a nice companion to the pre-high school days laid out in Dreams in a Time of War. I enjoyed the interspersing of commentary about how the author came to think a certain way, or hold a certain expectation of the world. The introduction of things familiar from summer camp (lights out, being woken in the morning in your bunk, preparing for performances while also attending classes) also brought this second volume to life for me in a way the first volume didn't necessarily. Throughout both, ...more
Welugewe Aningo
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Ngugi is one of the African authors' names that are whispered in reverence, shouted with pride and revered in one's own soul. "This is OUR best." "This is OUR voice on the world's stage." "This is OUR story." This book gifted me with the visual and texture of colonialism in Kenya. I loved all the contradictions and sharing the experience of an individual recognizing and navigating through them. Now I want to here about this time and place from an Acrossian's perspective.
Rhomboid Goatcabin
Dec 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Fascinating tale of youth in 1950s colonial Kenya.
Mar 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
It was hard to get through the middle as I am not an avid book reader but I thoroughly enjoyed the ending!
Marcy prager
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I revere Ngugi wa Thingo'o! His memoir of his time spent at a British colonial high school in Kenya depicted the "coming of age" of a boy turned man, braving the pull between learning about the history of Africa from an "imperialistic point of view" and the confusing realities beyond the walls of Alliance, where the hounds wait to arrest or publicly hang the rebels of colonialism. When Ngugi visits his home for the first time outside of his revered boarding school, his eyes cannot believe that h ...more
Mar 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I remember the gut wrenching feeling I had when Dreams in a Time of War ended with Ngugi nearly not able to go off to school...and then In the House of the Interpreter. It seems he is writing his memoir in stages. And this was as good as Dreams.

Covering the 4 years he spends in Alliance High School, he talks about the schooll and its history while showing the country in a more tenuous time: the colonial government desperate to end the Mau Mau war and employing villagisation to isolate the freed
Mar 24, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author writes about his years at Alliance High School in Kenya. The writing is very good, with fairly interesting anecdotes and vignettes of Kenyan society, youth, and evangelism.

The last few chapters, cover the author's return trip to his village after earning his first pay as a temporary teacher, and this is the part where I most related with the protagonist. He was arrested under the state of emergency and spent some time in jail. For me, the book is worth reading for these pages alone.

Lisa Houlihan
[Someone reads] a passage from Pilgrim’s Progress in which Christian, while visiting the Interpreter’s house, is taken into a parlor full of dust. As the room is being swept, the flying dust almost chokes the onlookers. Then a woman sprinkles water on the floor and all is well:
Then said Christian: What means this? The Interpreter answered: This parlor is the heart of a man that was never sanctified by the sweet grace of the gospel. The dust is his original sin and inward corruptions th
Dec 17, 2012 rated it really liked it
More travels with Ngugi growing up in Kenya, this time his high school experience - which ended on a very dramatic note that you might even call a cliffhanger. Now I have to wait and wait for his next book to find out what happened when he went off to college in Uganda! Kept learning, as I did with the previous volume of this memoir, about another country not so far away, not so long ago. I was struck in this book by what a difference good people, even with all their limitations, can make in pla ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
I probably would have grabbed the first of Ngugi's memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War, had I realized this was number 2, but I enjoyed it regardless. It is a compelling look at growing up during a major turning point in the history of Kenya and in Africa. He is especially good at making readers feel his dilemma - as a young Kenyan, he is equally committed to obtaining a decent education (which was run by the British) and in supporting his brother, who was fighting for the nationals. The pressures ...more
Jesse Morrow
May 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Ngugi's second volume of his memoir.

While "Dreams in a Time of War" carried us through primary school and Ngugi's Kikuyu rite of passage, this one carries us through his High School years at a top level boarding school and his passage to legal adulthood.

With the Mau-Mau uprising and the State of Emergency still in the background, Ngugi attempts to live life as a "normal" high schooler, shielded from the "Imperial Reckoning" of the Colonial State by the walls of his boarding school.

As usual, Ng
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Quick read that gives alot of insights into what the life of a student was in 1950s Kenya. I particularly enjoy the stories of life at Alliance, the complexities of the characters, and the irony of some of the experiences e.g. kenyan students debating whether western education had done more
harm than good in English at an institution which is committed to providing western education. Other
topics such as the color of God, fear that pervaded the African experience in colonial Kenya, the rise Kenyan
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kenya
Deeply immersed in reading about Kenya as we are going there in a month. The author is both a writer of fiction and memoirs, this latest of his high school days at the end of the Mau Mau rebellion and shortly before liberation from England. It's an account both of the political/social situation in the country and his intellectual, spiritual and emotional coming of age. Beautifully written, fascinating.
Simona GB
Jan 15, 2017 rated it liked it
A bit less entertaining and touching than Dreams in a Time of War, this second volume of memoirs has a stronger political focus. Though I happen to relate very well to the post colonial paradigm, to which Thiong'o adheres more and more, I must say that I preferred the genuine, non-ideological storytelling of the child in the first volume. Nevertheless, it is a great story, which captivated me entirely with its depth and insights into the Kikuyu culture.
Jun 21, 2015 rated it liked it
While a fairly easy read as auto-bios go, there was just not a compelling enough narrative. The back and forth from village to school which dominates the first 2/3 was not stimulating. Ngugi's thoughts on religion were much more compelling, as was the dynamic of being a beneficiary of the system which his brother fought against and he later opposed. Captured the dualistic nature of colonialism pretty well, but not necessarily in an interesting way.
Sep 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Probably a more relevant read if one is familiar with Ngugi's body of work and story; probably a richer read if one has read his childhood memoir (I had plenty of opportunity to read his other works in the six months since I began this book in March and then left it unfinished on a plane, but stubbornly chose to stick to this, which I picked up on a whim at the library). Still, with very little context, a smoothly told and thought-provoking presentation of colonial Kenya.
Karen Ashmore
Jul 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Well written memoir of student life at colonial boarding school in Kenya. Some insight into colonialism vs revolutionaries. Could not believe blind acceptance of everything British. Started becoming boring until the jail scene at the end which greatly picked up the pace and gave a realistic rendering of society in the times of political upheaval.
Daniel Burton-Rose
This installment of Ngugi's memoir covers 1955-59. These were his high school years, plus a harrowing tale of wrongful imprisonment. He's particularly good on the human nuances present even within the most polarized conflicts, in this case the Mau Maus and the British colonists and their compradors. He also recounts his involvement with evangelical Christianity, which I hadn't been aware of.
Dec 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
A very intelligent insight into the complex interracial tensions in the 1950s Kenya, the tragedy of Mau Mau, and the struggle for independence and dignity of the blacks - all from a point of view of a curious and inquisitive boy who would become Kenya's perhaps most prominent writer. In this extraordinary memoir, nothing is simplistic, nothing is unquestioned, and nothing is black and white.
Dec 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Autobiographical piece about the author's years in high school at a boarding school in Kenya. He has a couple of scary run-ins with the horribly corrupt and cruel local government. Life is certainly precarious there. This is written like an essay, which makes it a bit tedious to read but his story is very interesting. I'm glad he made it and became an author.
Robin Richardson
Jul 12, 2015 rated it liked it
The back of the book is very misleading, I think. I was expecting something more interesting and perhaps more politically-minded than what I read. The final section is definitely worth reading, but I don't really know if I can say the same about the rest of it.
Dec 06, 2016 rated it it was ok
I've got to stop reading memoirs. As much personal and professional interest as I have in Kenya, and enjoy reading Ngugi's work, this memoir left me wanting to learn so much more beyond a sanitized version of Ngugi as a high school student.
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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

Other books in the series

Memoirs (3 books)
  • Dreams in a Time of War
  • Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer's Awakening