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In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by…

In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Author)

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Title:In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir
Authors:Ngugi wa Thiong'o (Author)
Info:Pantheon (2012), 256 pages
Collections:Your library

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In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir by Ngugi wa Thiong'o (2012)



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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 strikes against the colonialists and Kikuyu supporters, which spread terror throughout the country. The British Army responds by fighting the Mau Mau in the forests and jungles, while cracking down harshly on the Kikuyu villagers who they suspect are supporting the freedom fighters.

Ngũgĩ's older brother Good Wallace has fled to join the freedom fighters, after he barely escaped with his life from an attack by local police after he visited his family in their home village of Kamĩrĩthũ. The townspeople and local officials are aware of Good Wallace's participation in the Uprising, and the family's activities are under surveillance.

As the book opens, James Ngũgĩ, the author's baptismal name, has returned from his first term at Alliance High School, the first and most highly regarded secondary school for black Kenyan students. His excitement at seeing his family again is quickly lost, as his home village has been razed to the ground, unbeknownst to him. He is eventually directed to a home guard post that has also been given the name Kamĩrĩthũ, which is essentially a concentration camp comprised of people from several nearby villages, under guard by the British Army. Those who are loyal to the colonial government receive better housing and more freedom, and families like the Ngũgĩs are relegated to substandard living conditions and are closely monitored.

James wears his Alliance uniform proudly outside of the school grounds, as it is widely recognized as a mark of success by fellow Kikuyus, and he views it as a sort of talisman that will protect him from suspicion or harm by British soldiers. The school was founded by European missionaries and modeled on schools for the education of Native Americans and African Americans in the post-Civil War South, particularly Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and Hampton Institute in Virginia. During Ngũgĩ's years at Alliance it was led by Edward Carey Francis, a visionary Englishman who transformed the school from a largely vocational one to an institute of higher learning based on rigorous study within and outside the classroom that would mold and generate the future leaders of the country. Black teachers from across the country worked alongside their European counterparts, and as a result Alliance students were self-confident, intellectually minded, and prepared to attend university or serve as teachers and leaders within their communities.

James grows in confidence during his Alliance years, under the influence of his teachers and close classmates, as he excels in his studies, writes his first short story and becomes a respected Christian teacher to children in a distant village. However, he is deeply conflicted between his education, which is heavily focused on England as the center of the world and colonialism as beneficial to the citizens of the British Empire, and his people's desire for freedom and his concern about Good Wallace, who was captured and imprisoned by the British Army, and his mother, who was detained and tortured while he was there. He graduates second in his class, takes on a temporary teaching position, and is accepted into Uganda's Makerere University, one of the most prestigious post-secondary schools for African students. However, in the aftermath of his acceptance to university, he falls into a dangerous situation that threatens to overturn all of his hard work and success.

In the House of the Interpreter is named in honor of Edward Carey Francis, who viewed Alliance as a modern version of the Interpreter's House in the 17th century novel The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan, a place "where the dust we had brought from the outside could be swept away by the law of good behavior and watered by the gospel of Christian service." It is a valuable and detailed though time limited view into Ngũgĩ's formative years, and the experiences during a time of personal and political upheaval that penetrated the fortress of higher learning that Alliance represented to him and his classmates. ( )
6 vote kidzdoc | Feb 7, 2013 |
In the second volume of his memoirs, Ngũgĩ tells the story of his time in Alliance, the elite boarding school he was admitted to at the end of Dreams in a Time of War, the first such school for African students in British-ruled Kenya. It is the time of the so-called Mau Mau rebellion against British rule and, for Ngũgĩ, the reality of that conflict and its direct impact on him and his family intrudes into the excitement he feels about excelling at school and absorbing some of the character and other skills imparted by headmaster Carey Francis and his staff. The reader acutely feels the humiliation -- and, far worse, the torture and killings -- the Kenyans suffer at the hands of the British, even while enjoying Ngũgĩ's coming of age. Having recently read Tsitsi Dangarembga's presumably somewhat autobiographical novel about her time in a boarding school during the Rhodesian/Zimbabwean conflict, The Book of Not, I found it interesting to contrast their experiences.

The title of the books comes from an excerpt from Pilgrim's Progress about the Interpreter's House, which the headmaster, in a scene in the book, compares to Alliance, "where the dust we had brought from the outside could be swept away by the law of good behavior and watered by the gospel of Christian service." Ngũgĩ's writing is just as perceptive as always in this memoir, and his story is interesting and well worth reading. However, it is much more straightforward than his memoir about his younger years, and doesn't have all of the magic and nuance of that work.
3 vote rebeccanyc | Nov 29, 2012 |
Showing 2 of 2
Many incidents in “In the House of the Interpreter” will remind readers of the great novels of the African American canon, particularly Richard Wright’s “Black Boy” and Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” both about blacks pursuing an education in a nation riddled by racial prejudices. Nor are such comparisons inappropriate
Coming-of-age works by other African writers, including Wole Soyinka, have covered similar ground in the lead-up to decolonisation, but every nation’s experience of that process is distinct, and In the House of the Interpreter stands out as a particularly powerful indictment of British colonialism and a lasting testament to the healing power of literature. Never bitter or one-sided, tempered throughout by a love of language that cuts across deep cultural divisions, including inter-tribal rivalry, this memoir leaves the reader eager for the next instalment.
a brave and vivid take on the decline of British colonialism - a document of a remarkable writer's political coming-of-age that makes all the more poignant reading knowing "the memories of pain" for him that are yet to come.
added by charl08 | editThe Independent (UK)

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Ngugi wa Thiong'oprimary authorall editionscalculated
Caball, JosefinaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Something startles me where I thought I was safest.
Walt Whitman
"This Compost," Leaves of Grass
To the class of 1958 [lists full class]
A formative part of my intellectual and spiritual strivings
And in memory of Kenneth Mbugwa who passed on in the middle of my writing this memoir.
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It's the end of my first term at boarding school, and I'm going home. It's April. When I first left Limuru for Alliance High School in January, it was in the last car of a goods train into which I had been smuggled...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307907694, Hardcover)

With black-and-white illustrations throughout

World-renowned Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright, and literary critic Ng˜ug˜ý 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 educational institution in British-ruled Kenya—in the 1950s, against the backdrop of the tumultuous Mau Mau Uprising for independence and Kenyan sovereignty. While Ng˜ug˜ý has been enjoying scouting trips, chess tournaments, and reading about the fictional RAF pilot adventurer Biggles at the prestigious Alliance High School near Nairobi, things have been changing rapidly at home. Poised as he is between two worlds, Ng˜ug˜ý returns home for his first visit since starting school to find his house razed and the entire village moved up the road, closer to a guard checkpoint. Later, his brother Good Wallace, a member of the insurgency, is captured by the British and taken to a concentration camp. As for Ng˜ug˜ý himself, he falls victim to the forces of colonialism in the person of a police officer encountered on a bus journey, and he is thrown into jail for six days. In his second year at Alliance High School, the boarding school that was his haven in a heartless world is shattered by investigations, charges of disloyalty, and the politics of civil unrest.
In the House of the Interpreter hauntingly describes the formative experiences of a young man who would become a world-class writer and, as a political dissident, a moral compass to us all. It is a winning celebration of the implacable determination of youth and the power of hope.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:04 -0400)

"From the world-renowned Kenyan novelist, poet, playwright, and literary critic, the second volume of his memoirs, spanning 1955-1959, the author's high school years during the tumultuous Mau Mau Uprising. In the House of the Interpreter evokes a haunting childhood at the end of British colonial rule in Africa, and the formative experiences of a political dissident"--… (more)

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