Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s In the House of the Interpreter: A Memoir, published in 2012 by Pantheon books follows on from Dreams in A Time of War: A Child hood Memoir. It covers the years at Alliance High School from 1955 to 1959. These are the years of the Mau Mau liberation struggle. A young Ngugi returns to a desolate landscape. All has been torn down and people crammed into a concentration village next to a home guard post. To keep the villagers from the Mau Mau or the Mau Mau from the villagers is the question. Throughout the memoir it is never, clearly, one or the other. Ngugi’s family is repeatedly interrogated about the whereabouts of Good Wallace, Ngugi’s brother and a Mau Mau fighter, and Ngugi lives in a hauntingly described state of fear brought to life by the repeated use of an image of pursuing bloodhounds in a nightmare.
The gates of Alliance High School keep the pursuing bloodhounds at bay as Ngugi encounters the new environment filled with characters like the Alliance High School Principal Edward Carey Francis and experiences the stresses of boarding school routine and the excitement of Shakespearian drama. It is a situation with the occasional odd event. Ngugi describes an incident where an emergency school assembly is called. At this assembly, Carey Francis condemns the sending of a dog to space by the USSR.
When not watching or participating in productions of Macbeth, King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream or helping organize community theater for his local community, Ngugi had a run in with the ‘balokole’ movement. It is his journey along the winding path of faith that forms part of the story behind the title of this memoir. From the rousing sermons from visiting clergy and Carey Francis, whose use of an illustration from Pilgrim’s Progress inspires the title, to the failings of other converts, who put girls in the family way, to the self described fall from grace of Ngugi , it is one of the more carefully explored story-lines in this memoir.
Outside Alliance High School the bloodhounds continue to hunt for him. All the close encounters are described in the accessible yet gripping language of a story that feels a lot closer to fiction than fact. The narrative is so carefully woven together, the threads run throughout the memoir from start to finish making for engaging, satisfying and insightful reading. It is almost too vivid at times to be fifty years ago. In the House of the Interpreter is easily one of the more relatable memoirs of recent times.