Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer's Awakening by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o - review by Maya Jaggi

Maya Jaggi

Memories of a Makerere

Birth of a Dream Weaver: A Writer's Awakening

By

Harvill Secker 238pp £14.50 order from our bookshop
 

When Langston Hughes, icon of the Harlem Renaissance, asks the 24-year-old James Ngugi (as Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was formerly known) to show him Kampala, the awestruck Kenyan student maps out an impressive tour of the Ugandan capital’s palaces and mosques. The two men walk down the hill from Makerere University but get no further than Wandegeya, a cacophonous slum of scrap-iron artisans, blaring radios and ragged-trousered clients frequenting matoke and waragi bars. ‘This milling crowd, its wails and shouts and ribald laughter, and the voice of Elly Wamala rising above them, seemed to fascinate Langston Hughes, and no talk of monuments would dislodge him from there,’ Ngũgĩ writes. Moreover, ‘in his casual wear, he blended into the scene more than I did, with my gray gabardine trousers and black blazer.’

Through the sixty-year-old Hughes’s fascination, the prim, colonially educated Ngũgĩ rediscovers his own backyard, even signing his articles for a student newspaper ‘Wandegeya Correspondent’. It is a story told with clarity and charm in the latest volume of memoirs by one of Africa’s greatest writers, a work

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