IN THE HOUSE OF THE INTERPRETER
By Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Pantheon. 256 pp. $25.95
The fortunate teenagers of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s generation in colonial Kenya were able, like him, to attend boarding school. Despite their many tribal languages and cultures, youth from various Kenyan villages intermingled and benefited from studying mathematics and Shakespeare (though no history of Africa was included). They shared the color of their skin and their subjugation to British rule, and they all spoke English. Or did they?
Ngugi’s first school trip to a proper English home was a slightly mysterious immersion in seemingly foreign words and concepts, such as “parlor,” “carpet” and “faucet.” “Everything was in dramatic contrast to my village hut,” he writes, “an all-purpose living space, sometimes shared with goats. Our bathrooms were the riversides, where we washed clothes and bathed behind reeds.” Before leaving, the visiting students learned that a three-course meal ended with dessert. “I thought he meant desert, and I wondered how one could eat a piece. Another boy voiced similar doubts. No, it was a dish, not a piece of sand.”