Against the backdrop of 1950’s Kenya a young boy returns to his village after studying at the prestigious Alliance boarding school to find his family and home has vanished. This young boy, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o, depicts a Kenya in turmoil under the colonial rule of Britain. The politicised conflicts in 50s Kenya are both detached and personal to Thiong’o – the sanctuary of Alliance imparts Anglocentric values upon him, but he lives in fear for his family who are beyond the safety of the school walls.
Thiong’o’s time as a pupil at Alliance preoccupies much of his memoir. It is a school which conforms to early twentieth-century stereotypes of the British boarding school experience; chess is played, and Shakespeare’s sonnets are tactful pick-up-lines for the ‘nymphs’ that reside at the Girls’ school across the valley. Alliance offers Thiong’o a mystical sanctuary from family; his studies a welcoming distraction from the arrest of his sister-in-law and thoughts of his brother, Good Wallace, fighting alongside the Mau Mau guerrillas for Kenyan independence.
In the House of the Interpreter is a deeply personal and resonating account of both Kenyan and British history and charters Thiong’o’s early development in Kenyan political affairs. Upon leaving the haven of school, our narrator becomes victim to the ‘colonial apartheid’ which has disrupted previous generations of his family. A cautionary and prominent text, Thiong’o’s story is one which unashamedly revisits the archaic values of the British Empire and offers an enlightening insight into the traversing of African and European culture. Not for giggles, but definitely a worthy read.
Available from Random House 8th November
Words: Hannah Dawson