Book Review: MINUTES OF GLORY, a superlative short story collection set in Kenya

Thiong'o - Minutes of GloryMinutes of Glory
And Other Stories
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Minutes of Glory and Other Stories represents a superlative collection of work by noted Kenyan author by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. The stories here represents divisions among communities that infect individuals and reduce them to their best–or worst–selves.

Some of these divisions affecting identity might occur in any group: power (vs. no power), infertility (vs. parenthood), wealth (vs. poverty). However, colonization introduced new fractures into society: educated (vs. uneducated), Christian (vs. “pagan”), cities (vs. villages), collaborators (vs. freedom fighters)–and seemed to heighten the existing dichotomies. Also running through the stories is the impact of the Mau Mau Emergency, a nationalist movement that advocated violent resistance to British rule.

Unlike many short story collections which can be uneven in quality, the stories in Minutes of Glory are equally powerful and unforgettable. The collection includes stories that have been published previously plus two that have never been published before in English. The stories are varied, some told in first person, most in third. Some are told from the perspective of women, and others from male narrators. Two even take British colonists’ points of view.

While plenty, even most of the stories, chart a route for acceptance and peace for the characters, I have to say my favorite are those where the external divisions create so much internal pressure that the characters succumb to their most monstrous impulses.

At times, particularly in the first two stories, I wasn’t sure that Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, writing from the perspective of women, had fully captured a female voice, but it’s also possible that as a Westerner, I am not fully privy to the voice of a Kenyan woman.

Perhaps my biggest quibble–and it’s not that big really–is that several times the author repeats the same word in a single sentence or series of sentences in proximity. For example, one sentence used “sacred” three times. That could be an artifact of translation. Also, because I read an early copy, it’s possible that will corrected in the final version.

I had not known who Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was, and the book caught my eye because of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s praise. I’m so glad that I read it. Minutes of Glory richly depicts a range of Kenyan society showing the impact of colonialism on the country. Arresting and thought-provoking, anyone who appreciates African literature should read this collection.

Thanks to NetGalley and The New Press for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

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