A writer’s coming-of-age tale featuring an artistic mix of pride and humility.

The celebrated African novelist, playwright, and activist, born in Kenya in 1938, revisits the early experiences that convinced him he was a writer.

Wa Thiong’o (English and Comparative Literature/Univ. of California, Irvine; In the House of the Interpreter, 2015, etc.) is a genial tour guide on this journey through his early years. One theme continually appears: his gratitude for his mother, who encouraged him early and often. The author proceeds in a gentle chronology as he takes us through his home life, schooling, and his discovery that he wanted to write—and that he had a natural talent for the craft. He wrote plays in school (winning a competition) and then began freelancing for local publications, including an extensive stint with a newspaper; he eventually resigned when he realized his passions lay in fiction and drama. Throughout, there are illustrations from his youth, including photos of people and clippings of his early publications and plays. Bubbling just below the surface—sometimes on the surface—is the fierce politics of the era, which featured the end of colonialism, the rise of brutal dictators, and countless ethnic clashes. As he acknowledges, the author was fortunate to avoid trouble early, but he also alludes to later years when he was incarcerated, experiences that are likely to appear in a subsequent memoir. Throughout, wa Thiong’o is careful to credit not just his mother, but some key teachers, friends, and significant supporters. Although the text communicates a clear pride in his accomplishments, the author notes repeatedly that his successes came not just from his talent and work ethic, but also from those who believed in him. He was able to study literature and literary theory at Makerere University in Kampala, Congo, and later at the University of Leeds. Through it all, “the desire to weave dreams remained aflame.”

A writer’s coming-of-age tale featuring an artistic mix of pride and humility.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62097-240-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2016


The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006



Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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