In the House of the Interpreter is a beautiful coming of age memoir by Ngugi Wa Thiong’O, a famous Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright and critic. Although the book describes only a brief period in the author’s life, it does an outstanding job of tracking his intellectual development and showing how he came to view himself in his evolving society. The drama of the story is greatly enhanced by the fact that it is set during a violent, fascinating period, the mid 1950’s when the Mau Mau Revolt rocked the British Empire’s final days of colonial rule of Kenya.
Despite extreme poverty and an extremely volatile political environment, the teenaged author managed to leave his village and attend an African boarding school. It was a tough school, run by an Englishman who saw his mission in life as serving Christ and educating African youth. Fortuitously, the school provided Ngugi with a remarkable haven from outside violence and profoundly affected and nourished his intellectual development. An avid and determined scholar, even as a teenager, Ngugi actively and consciously engaged with others, both within and without the school’s community during this tremendously tumultuous time.
In piercing contrast, outside the school’s grounds, Kenya was in turmoil. England was taking increasingly brutal measures to hold on to its colony in the face of the MauMau Revolt. Though not himself overtly political, Ngugi faced all sort of difficulties and repeated corruption just getting to and from school. His brother, who was part of the Mau Mau forces was in hiding andresistance was ultimately imprisoned. Ngugi’s own efforts to stay away from the fray were unsuccessful, and he was swept up in the political mess.
I highly recommend this book, which does a remarkable job of charting a budding author’s awareness of his country’s struggle for independence even as he deals with his own struggles to get an education and survive.