Birth of a Dream Weaver charts the very beginnings of a writer’s creative output. In this third volume of his memoirs, Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o recounts the four years he spent in Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda—threshold years where he found his voice as a playwright, journalist, and novelist, just as Uganda, Kenya, Congo, and other countries were in the final throes of their independence struggles.
...a book that should be read by any young person contemplating a degree in the humanities. But for the full force of its majestic revelations and wrenching insights about selfhood, literature, history and politics, one should give a whole weekend to Ngugi and read its prequels first ... Ngugi leaves the university both a free man — in the sense of having become a thinker who has transcended his limited origins — and the citizen of a free country. Even so, the book ends on an unusually pessimistic note, with forebodings of the crises to come: the dictatorship of Daniel arap Moi (under whose regime Ngugi was thrown into prison) and the retrospective sense that colonialism had, even in departing the scene physically, left its tentacles in Africa. The face of the young man slips away, replaced by that of a rueful 78-year-old. None of that will distract the reader, though, from the stirring message at the heart of this book and its predecessors: Every page ripples with a contagious faith in education and in the power of literature to shape the imagination and scour the conscience. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another living writer today — Orhan Pamuk, perhaps — who speaks so inspiringly and convincingly about the value of literature. No serious reader will want to miss this riveting story of how a herdsboy and child laborer 'became a weaver of dreams.”'
Mr Ngugi’s unstated goal throughout this book is reclamation, not just of the Land and Freedom Army, but of much of the colonial endeavour in east Africa. Over and over again he condemns the denigration of Kenyans as 'primitive' and 'zoological' and goes on to present a clearer rationale for the Kikuyu people’s desire for freedom. Mr Ngugi’s own wish to wrest the narrative away from the colonial thread comes at a cost, though; at times the story of his development as a thinker and writer is muddled and seems secondary to the broad political and social upheavals happening across the region.
This is an angry book, peppered with memories of slights, insults and arguments that may date back more than half a century but clearly have lost none of their bite ... There’s no denying the injustices perpetrated during British rule, but undigested fury does not always make for good reading. So keen is Ngugi on landing anti-imperial punches that at times his touch becomes leaden ... It will be interesting to see whether Ngugi’s next memoir will be set in postindependence Kenya and be equally feisty. While colonialism presents African writers with the softest of targets, criticizing still-living African politicians and modern-day regimes is fraught with risk. During the regime of former President Daniel arap Moi, Ngugi’s writing got him imprisoned and forced into exile; when he returned to Kenya in 2004 during the presidency of Mwai Kibaki, he was attacked by armed robbers and his wife raped. Plenty of material there for rage, I would think, and not much likelihood of distancing.