Want to Start a Book Club?

Have you ever read a great book and wished you could talk to someone about it?  Or maybe you’ve thought about starting a book club before?  We’ve got news for you!

If you or anyone you know are interested in putting together a Book Club, or if you already run a book club, then I’m pleased to announce Farafina’s Book Club Program.  We are proud to work with and encourage different book clubs across the country.  As a registered affiliate in the Farafina Book Club Program, we will offer your members 10% off any of our titles that you chose and the official coordinator will receive a complimentary copy of the selected title.  Your book club will also receive alerts on Farafina events, special offers and discounts on books, and invites to some of our special programs when available.

To receive these benefits and more, all you have to do is formally register your Book Club with us by providing your book club name, location (s) where you generally meet, frequency of meeting, how many members you have, and the names and email addresses of your members.  Once you send your information to bookclub@kachifo.com, we will send you a catalogue of our books so you can get started!

Kingdom of Ife Storms the British Museum

Seated Figure, Bronze - Ife. c. Karin L. Willis/Museum for African Art/Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments

The British Museum in the UK is currently exhibiting about 100 sculptures in its Kingdom of Ife Exhibition.  It is of course lovely to experience these pieces of art upfront but some have been asking the questions that nobody seems comfortable to answer just yet about African treasures showing up for display everywhere else but in Africa.

It is said that the curators of the exhibition are very keen on pointing out that the pieces on display are mostly on loan from the National Museum in Lagos.  We keep hearing of all the great pieces the National Museum has in its possession but can we ask how come they are never shown right here in Lagos?

Either way, if this is right up your alley, go take a look at the British Museum.  The Kingdom of Ife exhibition runs until June 6, 2010.  Tell us what you think!

Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop

Farafina Trust will be holding a creative writing workshop in Lagos, organized by award-winning writer and creative director of Farafina Trust, Chimamanda Adichie, from May 20 to May 29 2010. The workshop is sponsored by Nigerian Breweries Plc. Guest writers who will co-teach the workshop alongside Adichie are the Caine Prize Winning Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina, Chika Unigwe winner of a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for creative writing, South African writer Niq Mhlongo and celebrated Ghanaian writer Ama Ata Aidoo. The workshop will take the form of a class. Participants will be assigned a wide range of reading exercises, as well as daily writing exercises. The aim of the workshop is to improve the craft of Nigerian writers and to encourage published and unpublished writers by bringing different perspectives to the art of storytelling. Participation is limited only to those who apply and are accepted.

To apply, send an e-mail to Udonandu2010@gmail.com Your e-mail subject should read ‘Workshop Application.’ The body of the e-mail should contain the following:

1. Your Name

2. Your address

3. A few sentences about yourself

4. A writing sample of between 200 and 800 words. The sample must be either fiction or non-fiction.

All material must be pasted or written in the body of the e-mail. Please Do NOT include any attachments in your e-mail. Applications with attachments will be automatically disqualified. Deadline for submissions is April 22 2010. Only those accepted to the workshop will be notified by May 6 2010. Accommodation in Lagos will be provided for all accepted applicants who are able to attend for the ten-day duration of the workshop. A literary evening of readings, open to the public, will be held at the end of the workshop.

Okey Adichie

Programme Officer

Farafina Trust

Wordless Post: BookJam Picture Show

Cross-section of guests

Unoma Giese - the moderator of BookJam 2

Father Uwem Akpan, author "Say You're One of Them" signing a book for an eager reader.

Joy Isi Bewaji, author Eko Dialogue listening in on a question

Adewale Maja Pearce authographing a book.

Congrats Igoni!!!! - Uwem Akpan with Igoni Barrett @BookJam 2

It was lovely seeing everyone there and to those who couldn’t make it…you missed out!!!  Okay, okay, look forward to seeing you at the next one!  (Not quite wordless but forgive us)

Is Africa Ready for Science Fiction?

So in light of all the bruhaha surrounding the film District 9 and the subsequent ban by the Ministry of Information (seems so long ago now), we found the following piece even more fascinating.  Also seeing that the recently announced Penguin Books Prize for African Literature leaves out authors of science fiction works, it is easy to see how one can come to wonder whether African Literature is ready for science fiction.  In the piece below, writer Nnedi Okorafor (and Farafina author) ponders on how science fiction fits into the African literary scene.  The piece was first published on the Nebula Awards blog as a guest blog post last year but it is still a very relevant discussion:  “Is Africa Ready for Science Fiction?”

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had some interesting conversations with award-winning Nollywood director Tchidi Chikere about science fiction (Nollywood is Nigeria’s oh-so-popular film industry. The term “Nollywood” is a play on “Hollywood”, much the same way as India’s “Bollywood”).

Chikere has written, produced, and directed over 50 films. He also published a collection of rather chilling short stories titled Strangers in Paradise. The collection includes a novella called “Daughter of the Cave,” which is essentially a fantasy piece. Chikere sought me out after my novel, Zahrah the Windseeker [a Farafina title available at Kachifo.com and at your local bookstore!], piqued his interest. Needless to say, I was delighted and honored to hear from him.

During one of our conversations, we discussed my own work and whether it could be translated to film, particularly African film. “Is Africa ready for science fiction?” he asked me. We debated this for a while. Naturally, I believed Africa was ready…ready enough, at least. Notwithstanding my own contentions, Chikere had other ideas.

“I don t think we’re ready in the primary sense of the word,” Chikere said. “We can hide it in other categories like magic realism, allegory, etc, but we’re not ready for pure science fiction.”

“Science fiction films from the West are failures here. Even Star Wars!” he said. “The themes aren’t taken seriously. Science fiction will come here when it is relevant to the people of Africa. Right now, Africans are bothered about issues of bad leadership, the food crisis in East Africa, refugees in the Congo, militants here in Nigeria. Africans are bothered about food, roads, electricity, water wars, famine, etc, not spacecrafts and spaceships. Only stories that explore these everyday realities are considered relevant to us for now.”

Read the rest here.

Lost in Translation

So, a literary storm has been brewing recently with Cameroonian novelist Leonora Miano outrightly lashing out at her publishers, the University of Nebraska Press, against the Foreword included in the American version of her novel “L’interieur de la nuit”.  She sent in her grievances to the Complete Review and we have her note verbatim here for our readers!

Dear the Complete Review,

Thank you for giving me some space to express myself, and to say why the foreword added to my novel should be removed.

In sub-Saharan Africa, we’re used to be despised by the rest of the world and to be treated as mere animals. I knew, when L’intérieur de la nuit (Dark Heart of the Night) was published, that some would use the novel in order to reinforce their views on Africa and its peoples. Really, I didn’t care and still don’t care about that. What I’m interested in, is the African point of view on the topics I work on. I think we’ve spent too much time hoping for understanding and recognition from people other than ourselves. It’s time we focus on our problems and deal with them, no matter how painful it is. I’m confident in our ability to do so. I’m confident in our desire to no more take lessons in humanity from people who created and used the atomic bomb, and who still have death penalty in their country. Things would be so cool if people could just clean their front door …
When University of Nebraska Press bought the rights of the book, I was happy because it’s important for me to be translated into English, and to make my work available for the many Africans (and people of African descent as well) who actually speak English. I started to ask myself questions when I saw which title had been chosen for the American translation of L’intérieur de la nuit. Dark Heart of the Night has nothing to do with the original title. It resembles Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and voluntarily sends wrong messages. But all right. The contract had been signed, and UN Press could use a title betraying my work without me having a say in this. They could even create that ugly cover if they thought it would help them sell the book. I know nothing about the American taste as far as covers are concerned.
But now, UN Press also felt entitled to add a foreword. Why not, if the aim was to help the readers know the writer and understand the novel? The problem is that the foreword is full of misleading information. Let’s say it frankly, it’s full of lies:

1/ Cameroon does not have the worse human rights record in Africa. We have a lot of issues to face, but our country is not more violent than the USA where people are killed on a daily basis for all kinds of reasons. I don’t understand why the author of that foreword, who never bothered to contact me, made up stories like that. She is insulting a country and its people. Cameroonians will certainly not allow it.

2/ Cameroon is not the setting of the novel which was, as I’ve said it many times, inspired by a documentary that I saw on children at war. We don’t have those in Cameroon nowadays, and if we ever had, I never heard about it.

3/ I discovered the so called “Hashish Massacre” in the foreword. I had never heard of that, even if I knew about the armed conflicts we had in the country during the late fifties, when our people were fighting for their independence.

4/ I did not leave Cameroon to France to flee from a violent place. I live in France because I’m both selfish and down to earth. France is still the place where you need to be when you’re an African French speaking writer. It’s what allows you to be published and correctly distributed. My fellow Cameroonians don’t know the many talented writers who live in the country and whose books are published there. They know me. And L’intérieur de la nuit was awarded the Prize of Cameroonian Excellency in 2007.

5/ My novel is not a criticism of Negritude or Panafricanism. I’m deeply attached to Negritude whose authors have nurtured and freed my mind. If it was not for what they did, I would not be such a bold and fierce voice. They made me. Isn’t it a pity to see that the author of the foreword cannot even write Aimé C&eacutesaire’s name properly?
I’m a strong advocate of Panafricanism, which I view as the only way to solve some of our problems. L’intérieur de la nuit deals with fascistic views of the African identity, and this has nothing to do with Negritude or Panafricanism.

6/ I’ve not just written another novel. Three more have actually been published, in addition with one collection of short stories and a collection of creative non fiction. The latter, entitled Soulfood Equatoriale, is my only book really talking about Cameroon. And you know what? Nobody dies in the book. If the foreword was to be informative, it would have said all this. It would also have said that L’intérieur de la nuit is part of a trilogy. Even if those novels were written so they could be read separately, they form an ensemble.

7/ There is only one child killed in L’intérieur de la nuit, and that child is an orphan (it doesn’t make it good to kill him, but we’re talking about what is in the novel). I don’t understand why the author of the foreword talks about the women whose children are slaughtered. Can the lady actually read? Has she read? I think she must have been given an oral summary of the novel, plus two or three sentences to place here and there. This is not serious.

Complete Review, I could also say a few things on the way you read and understood the book. I won’t. I’m glad you read it and said something about it.

We’ve asked UN Press to withdraw the foreword. If they cannot do it because the books are already out, they’ll have to send them with a letter explaining everything I’ve just told you.

Léonora Miano

What do you guys think?  Should Miano have handled her disagreement in another manner or should the publisher have included her more in the process of translating her work?  How about the angle of the west seeing Africa as the “DARK HEART”?

Supporting These Genes

Here are ten things to note about JEANS FOR GENES, the upcoming fashion party market to raise awareness about sickle cell!

  1. Jeans for Genes is a fashion show/party and market! IT is scheduled to hold on Sat March 27th, at the swanky SWE BAR, City Mall, Onikan, 3pm. Jeans for Genes is brought to you by THESE GENES, a sickle cell project run by Tosyn Bucknor. These Genes aims to create awareness-based social programmes, for people to be able to hang out, have some fun, and ultimately, speak and learn about sickle cell disorder.
  2. The first edition of JEANS FOR GENES held in 2008 and featured lovely designs by Byge, Beampeh and My Q, with music performances by Bez, M.I, Etcetera and so on.  (Notice how big they’ve become now?!)
  3. This year, JEANS FOR GENES is all about TEESHIRTS! Nigerians love teeshirts, which truly are multi-purpose when you think about it. Teeshirts are used for awareness campaigns, as fashion apparels, and to create a bond. JEANS FOR GENES 2 would like to show what Nigerian designers are now doing with teeshirts on their mind!
  4. Jeans for Genes is three things in one- an awareness fashion show, which will feature sickle-cell awareness and a fashion show, a teeshirt party with music, drinks (bought by you o), and networking, and a market! Yes o! There will be teeshirts, accessories and more on sale on that day, and the prices will be so good, you’d wish Jeans for Genes was a monthly event!
  5. It’s JUST a teeshirt right? Not when you see what TONI PAYNE, STRICTLY NAIJA CLOTHING, OUCH! HAPPY FACEZ and IMAGINE CLOTHING do with it! These are five of some of the proudly Nigerian companies whose designs you will see on the runway come Sat Mar 27th! Each of these companies brings something unique to the table, and we are very pleased and excited to have them on board! They have also promised to donate items to the cause, so that proceeds from the sale of same, will go into the final pot at the end of the day!
  6. The models that will walk the runway will be beautifully made up by LABELLE’s TOUCH. So expect them to look glam! They will also exhibit accessories designed by BUCKSTONE VENTURES, T.T DALK FOOTWEAR, AKIN BEADS, and MY DAZZLE. And everything they model, will be available for sale! (We emphasise that. Forgive us!)
  7. It’s not just fashion though! We have to have music! And when we say music! We mean an OVERDOSE of music! We mean SKUKI and LOOSE KAYNON, WIZKID and LAMI, ZARA and HAKYM THE DREAM, MODE NINE and SKALES, DIPP and MO CHEDDAH… And the very pretty DOOSHIMA DABO’ADZUANA as the m.c on the day!
  8. Jeans for Genes is a teeshirt party so OF COURSE, the dress code is TEES AND THESE GENES! The question is… how creative will YOU get with this dress code?! Tees can be dressed up or down, they can be sexy, cute or classic, they can be zany or simple… So which direction are you thinking of going? NIGEZIE, SOUNDCITY,MTV, HIP ON TV, QUEST TV, STV, BELLA NAIJA, GUARDIAN, and more, will be on the Red Carpet, hoping to capture sexy and creative interpretations of the dress code. Remember, its TEES AND THESE GENES!
  9. But we couldn’t have put this event together without support from s.h.a.r.e, Zapphaire Events, X3M Music, YAT, and our lovely volunteers like Bolaji Ajayi! Youth Are Talking (YAT) will tell us a bit about H.I.V/AIDS so please watch out for their stand, and runway!
  10. Of course Farafina Books will be there in full effect!!!  You’ll have an opportunity to buy all our titles at this event with 20% of sales going to support the sickle cell project These Genes!

So there you have it!  We do hope we will see you on SAT March 27th at Swe for 3pm, armed with enough cash to bargain shop and your phones to network?! Wait though! Is your name on the guest list yet? Not sure? Well, let me break it down! To get an invite to the Jeans for Genes fashion party/market/show, please get a specially designed THESE GENES teeshirt! There are two style, ‘THESE GENES CELEB’ and ‘ROCK THESE GENES’. The tees are available now and cost N4000! Please call or text 08023066252 to get your name on the Guest List o o o o o o o

Hope to see you there!

BookJam @Silverbird 2!

Farafina proudly supports BookJam @Silverbird.  This is the second edition of the once-monthly event happening at Silverbird Galleria, Victoria Island.  This edition will feature acclaimed author Uwem Akpan whose book “Say Your One of Them” was picked as an Oprah Book Club Selction, Joy Isi Bewaji author of Eko Dialogue, and Andrew Maja-Pearce, author of Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Poems.  At BookJam you have the opportunity to hear each author read their favorite passages from their work, participate in literary discussions, and also the chance to get your copy autographed.  The last edition was loads of fun and this one promises to be more so, so see you there!

Laila Lalami On Writing “Secret Son”

Laila Lalami

Writer Laila Lalami

Some of you may have heard of Laila Lalami, some of you might not, however here at Farafina we like to celebrate our family of friends, authors, writers, book readers, and Laila just so happens to be one of them.  Laila Lalami was born and raised in Morocco. She studied Linguistics at Université Mohammed-V in Rabat, University College London, and the University of Southern California and her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a British Council Fellowship and a Fulbright Fellowship. She was short-listed for the Caine Prize for African Writing (the “African Booker”) in 2006 and for the National Book Critics’ Circle Nona Balakian Award in 2009. Her debut collection of short stories, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, was published in the fall of 2005 and has since been translated into into six languages. Her first novel, Secret Son, was published in the spring of 2009. She is currently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California Riverside.

Secret Son has just been listed on the longlist of the Orange Prize (congrats!) and below, Laila in her own words gives us a look behind the scenes of writing the book.

About the Book

I remember clearly the day I began working on the manuscript that became Secret Son. I was still revisingHope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, but I longed to try my hand at something new. At the time, I was living in Portland, Oregon. It was raining. (Of course, it always rains in Portland, so this was a wholly unremarkable day.) I took my notebook into the dark living room, sat by the fireplace, and started writing. I had a blurry image in my mind of a young man; hands stuffed in his pockets, he was walking home to the shack he shares with his mother after watching a movie at a nearby theater.

Book CoverI followed that image and others like it, pixel by pixel, for the next five years, finding out more about this character as I went along. Youssef El Mekki—for that turned out to be his name—was shy, bookish, gullible, by turns sensitive to others’ feelings and oblivious to them. Early on in the novel, he finds out that his long deceased father, whom he believed was a poor, respected schoolteacher, is in fact Nabil Amrani, a wealthy businessman living in the same sprawling city of Casablanca. Youssef sets out to find Nabil and, much to his surprise, is welcomed into his father’s liberal, sophisticated, yet highly corrupt world.

The story of the illegitimate son has been told many times, and with the increasing liberalization of social mores it may seem to some readers to be quaint, or even outmoded, but in Morocco, where societal constraints still retain some of their power, the story of Youssef is at once believable and ordinary. Believability, however, was not an overriding concern for me. What mattered more to me was the emotional weight of the novel, whether it had the ability to move me both as a writer and as a reader.

Because the main story was set against a background of Islamic fundamentalism and corrupt liberalism, I thought at first that those thematic concerns would be the main driving force in the book. Eventually, though, I came to see that in fact the novel was about other things altogether. It was about belonging, about the complications and difficulties of individual identity in an increasingly messy, sectarian, and global world. Youssef has to negotiate competing allegiances of family, society, and ideology, and I think I was interested to see whether he would reach any definitive answers.

Secret Son is also about truth. None of the main characters in this novel are exactly who they seem to be—Youssef El Mekki is not the son of a schoolteacher; Amal Amrani is not living the life her family thinks she does; Rachida Ouchak is not exactly the orphan she has told her son she was; and Nabil Amrani is not the upstanding husband and father he has always pretended to be. Like all of us, Youssef relies on appearances in order to learn things about the world around him, but his perceptions of the world are, by definition, limited. Ultimately, he learns it is dangerous to believe that the truth is simply the sum total of one’s perceptions.

Of course, as in some of my earlier work, Secret Son explores issues of class. The novel chronicles Youssef El Mekki’s rise in society, from the slums outside Casablanca to a penthouse apartment with a view of the King Hassan mosque. Shifting from poverty to wealth does not relieve him of his invisibility, however. He remains a secret, hidden away from the world. And in some sense he is still dependent on his father and can’t seem to reach a stage of complete independence.

It took me nearly five years to finish writing Secret Son, and although I am sometimes frustrated with myself for the glacial pace of my writing, I am very grateful for the opportunities that this book opened up for me. It gave me the chance to write from multiple points of view, including that of a young, urban male in Morocco; a sophisticated female expat in America; a middle-aged businessman; and a single mother.

I had to rely wholly on imaginative empathy to create these characters, though inevitably I share a few traits, feelings, or habits with them. Youssef studies English at a university in Morocco, as did I; his mother is an orphan who was raised in a French institution in Fès, as was mine; he is gullible, as, unfortunately, am I; he speaks French fluently, as do I; yet he never quite feels at home with the French-educated elite, and neither do I. Still, even these small personal details have been rewritten and shaped and edited to serve the needs of my story.

More importantly, Secret Son gave me the opportunity to grow as a writer, to tell, better than I had before, an engaging, complex, and truthful story. My hope is that readers find the same as well.


You can buy Laila’s books from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble online.  In Nigeria unfortunately, you may have to order it.

Ngugi’s Remembrance of Things Past

by Tosin Sulaiman culled from NEXT Newspapers

At 72, the Kenyan author and playwright, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, still longs to write his great masterpiece. Despite being hailed as one of Africa’s literary giants and having his books translated into more than thirty languages, Ngugi admits that he sometimes has doubts about his impact as a writer.

Speaking at an event in London on Sunday, March 7, to launch his latest book, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, Ngugi said:

“As a writer, one of the things I always fear is that I haven’t done as much as other writers have done…I’ve never written that book that I really wanted to write. You can argue that every novel I’ve written is an attempt to write that novel. I want to write that novel that really, really empowers people.”

At the event, ‘Ngugi Wa Thiong’o in Conversation’, organised by the Travel Bookshop in London, the author read excerpts from Dreams in a Time of War, recounting how he grew up in a polygamous household, his mother’s efforts to send him to school despite their poverty, and the impact of the Second World War on his family. He was also interviewed by Richard Dowden, director of the Royal African Society, and answered questions about the legacy of colonialism in Kenya, the Mau Mau war of independence, and writing in his native Gikuyu language.

The mother tongue

He was at his most impassioned when discussing language, a subject on which he has had much to say since announcing in the late 1970s that he would write books in Gikuyu, rather than English. In his 1986 book, Decolonising the Mind, he wrote that “the domination of a people’s language by the languages of the colonising nations was crucial to the domination of the mental universe of the colonised.” When Dowden asked whether he still felt he should be writing in his mother tongue, Ngugi, who has criticised Chinua Achebe for writing in English, insisted his views had not changed.

“There’s nothing wrong with the English language,” he said. “The power relationship between languages is what we’re talking about. I’m talking about the decolonising of the power relationship in the world. I believe in it even more firmly than ever before.”

A different world

He also spoke of his concern about the growing inequalities in Kenya and lamented that the country had not learnt sufficient lessons from its struggle for independence.

“I don’t feel independence has been fair to ordinary working people of Kenya,” he said.

“The gap between the poor and the rich is widening every day and deepening every day and I’m sure those who fought were not fighting for that kind of world. They had a vision of a different world.”

Ngugi’s works have attacked the British colonialists in Kenya and the brutal tactics they used against Mau Mau insurgents in the 1950s, but he has also been fiercely critical of the country’s post-colonial governments. His writing and activism led to his imprisonment between 1977 and 1978, and later to his 22-year exile in Britain and the United States, which began in 1982.

He continued to be a bête noire to Kenya’s former president Daniel Arap Moi, even in absentia. After his novel Matigari was published in 1986, Moi issued an arrest warrant for the main character, believing it to be a real person, and later banned the book.

Ngugi, a professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, eventually returned to Kenya in 2004, after Moi left power. But his homecoming was marred when he and his wife were attacked and robbed by gunmen. In 2006, Ngugi published Wizard of the Crow, his first new novel in more than 20 years, which received glowing reviews.

Childhood years

As Dreams in a Time of War suggests, Ngugi developed his gift for storytelling through listening to fireside tales told by members of his large family.

Born in 1938 in Limuru in Central Kenya, Ngugi never knew where he ranked in terms of age among his father’s 24 children. His mother was the third of his father’s four wives and Ngugi was the fifth of her six children.

The book describes an atmosphere of cooperation, rather than competition, among the wives, who formed an unlikely alliance. In one delightful passage introducing us to each woman, Ngugi assigns them political titles: the youngest wife, an outspoken, no-nonsense woman, was the “defense minister of the homestead,” the shy second wife was the “minister of peace,” his generous, hard-working mother was the “minister of works,” and the eldest wife, a philosopher, the “minister of culture.” Storytelling was the family’s main form of entertainment and every evening, the children would gather around the fireside in the hut of the eldest wife, who was the best storyteller. Even when he already knew the story, Ngugi gave his undivided attention.

Ngugi writes movingly of his mother who, despite being illiterate, was determined that her son would get an education and also took an active interest in his learning. Even when he scored ten out of ten in his schoolwork and moved to a higher grade every term, his mother would ask, “is that the best you could have done?” By the age of 16, he had been accepted into one of the country’s best high schools and his mother had to scrape together donations to pay part of the tuition. But they still could not find the money for shoes and long stockings, which were required by the school. Of the shoes which stood between him and a prestigious education, Ngugi writes, “I had never owned or worn a pair in my life…I had walked barefoot all my life.” Thanks to his sister’s generosity, this would change.

The world wars

Besides education, war is the other major theme in the book and Ngugi actually writes about three different conflicts – the First and Second World Wars and the Mau Mau uprising.

He describes his father’s desperate attempts to avoid fighting in the First World War, in which African soldiers drafted by the colonists died “out of all proportion to the European soldiers.” Every time his father was about to undergo a medical exam, “he would chew leaves of a certain plant that raised his temperature to an alarming level.” Ngugi was born “under the shadow” of the Second World War, which he learnt about during the family’s fireside sessions and through stories about his half-brother and cousin, who both fought with the British army.

But he also saw evidence of the war, for example in the soldiers who passed through Limuru, the Italian prisoners of war who were building a road in the village, and the disruption caused to the system of food production and distribution, which led to food shortages and famine in some areas.

The Mau Mau

However, it was the Mau Mau uprising that had the biggest impact on Ngugi, not least because his older brother was a guerrilla fighting in the mountains while other brothers were on the British side.

As Dowden explained, the uprising was one of the most savage wars in the anti-colonial struggles of the 1960s. The British “executed more people in Kenya in that period…than all the other anti-colonial struggles put together,” he said.

Ngugi told the audience that British portrayals of the insurgents as terrorists were at odds with what he knew of his brother, who came down from the mountains one night to wish him luck in an exam, despite the risk of being caught.

As the evening ended, the conversation moved on to Ngugi’s reasons for writing the memoir, which took him less than a year to complete. He explained that he wanted to empower people to rise above their struggles, but that he also wanted his children and grandchildren to understand what he went through.

“But it’s not just a story about the past,” he continued. “That’s why it’s called ‘Dreams in a Time of War.’ When my grandchildren read it, I hope they don’t read it as a story about the past but a story about their own lives in the present.”