A COMPARATIVE READING OF NGŨGĨ WA THIONG’O’S AND BINYAVANGA WAINAINA’S MEMOIRS - Susanne Gehrmann
The publication of three volumes of memoirs by of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o between 2010 and 2016: Dreams in a Time of War, In the House of the Interpreter and Birth of a Dream Weaver, has been a major literary event for Kenyan and Eastern African literature. In his seventies, Ngũgĩ joins other postcolonial authors of the first and second generations who have preceded him, in publishing an autobiographical serial on childhood, identity formation and the issue of becoming a writer in colonial contexts and on the verge of formal decolonization. As representative of the Kwani generation of Kenyan writers, Binyavanga Wainaina, aged only 40, offers an early autobiographical text, One Day I will write about this Place in 2011, followed by its lost chapter “I am a homosexual, mum” in 2014. His was a major literary event, too. In my paper, I propose to examine the continuities and ruptures in life writing, and how the thematic, stylistic and ideological choices of Ngũgĩ’s and Wainaina, who are both widely read global authors of the present, differ. As I go along the lines of language, class and Bildung; collective trauma and individual depression, the relation to the nation, pan-Africanist and hybrid culture as well as the issue of becoming a writer, I question whether Wainaina’s narrative should still be termed postcolonial life writing in the same sense as Ngũgĩ’s. By observing that in many ways, Wainaina’s text moves away from Ngugi’s classical postcolonial stance, I argue that he inaugurates what we can – by lack of a better term for now – momentarily name a post- postcolonial autobiography.