Birth of a Dream Weaver: A writer's awakening by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Birth of a Dream Weaver: A writer's awakening by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Category: Autobiography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: James Donald
Reviewed by James Donald
Summary: A deeply moving, highly important and fascinating look at both the first steps on the journey to becoming a writer and the history of Kenya. Ngugi completely blows open the myths surrounding colonialism and reveals that the man behind the curtain wasn't just a fake but was actually a monster all along.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: November 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1784701307

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The true story of Kenya's foremost author in his own words. Ngugi wa Thiong'o is the most important writer that you've (or at the very least, I've) never heard of. In this volume of his autobiographical series we follow Ngugi as he ventures to University in Uganda and starts writing professionally. Ngugi tells the story of British colonialism at the end of the Empire as clearly as his own tale – making this one of the most important books on the market today.

What do you know of the British actions in Africa? How used to being the good guys are you? In the shadow of World war II our colonial forces resurrected the concentration camps to deal with troublesome natives. Whilst coloured Americans were slowly gaining equality, over in Kenya a desire for independence was seen as a sign of mental illness; an illness you could only cure by forcing the patient into hard work.

We open this work with Ngugi describing the censorship of his work. A British officer cannot do a thing like that. That's why… is all anyone would say when a play he had written was banned. The officer in question was a background character who had raped a native woman. The event was important to the plot but not presented front and centre. Nobody would adequately explain why they couldn't show the play so instead the author tells us just how tame he was being and outlines the vile truth of colonial rule. With a deft pen Ngugi weaves the tale of his coming to University, the contest he entered and the history of British violence to the native Kenyans. The events blend together and his life mixes around the context and history surrounding them.

With the skills of a master craftsman Ngugi swings between bitter irony, biting sarcasm, a stark, emotionless narrative, and joyful exuberance. His use of language bounces between stilted naivety and florid purple prose. All the voices used exactly switch and bounce to perfectly match the need of the meandering tale.

I could quote this book endlessly this incredible sight of black people who did not walk as if they were strangers in their own city. And I was benefiting from a history that came to negate my history are just two of the true gems. On top of this we have a brutal biography of Idi Amin Dada that in just a few short lines tells you more than a long Wikipedia entry ever would. Honestly I could sell this book to you by simply quoting Ngugi over and over again but I would far rather you go and read it in context.

The first section of the book very much sets the tone for the whole. One event is selected as important. Ngugi then builds the timeline up to this moment followed by a reflection on it. Between these points we get the meanders into global politics and colonial history that add texture and weight to the whole thing.

The details of atrocities committed by an occupying force always make hard reading but Ngugi's matter-of-fact presentation of them is even more powerful than any graphic description could be. Descriptions of honourable and private people not discussing the horrors they've suffered hurts deeply.

I cannot overstate how important this work is. We have come a long way in the teaching of history in the UK. Students are taught to assess evidence, look for bias and learn how to research. These skills are only useful if pointed at the right things and our colonial history in Africa is very much the right thing to look at but sadly it is often neglected. Ngugi shows how the gradual fall of the British Empire and its actions across the world tie to everything from business through to the Cold war. The history of this period and region are something that every British Citizen should be aware of.

Highly recommended. Very powerful. Fascinating. Heart-breaking. Heart-warming. A real tour de force.

Further reading Dreams in a Time of war by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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Buy Birth of a Dream Weaver: A writer's awakening by Ngugi wa Thiong'o at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Birth of a Dream Weaver: A writer's awakening by Ngugi wa Thiong'o at


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