Minutes of Glory
‘Minutes of Glory’ is a book of short stories that tells of people at crossroads in their lives. Protagonists include a woman who yearns to be a mother but is unable to conceive, hypocritical missionaries who desire to undermine traditional holy men, a man driven mad by his ambitions to prove those around him wrong and a young boy who has visions about his Priest’s wrongdoings. They are all so different, yet their stories similarly reflect deeply personal and political challenges. The collection comprises stories that have been published previously but also includes two works that have never before been published in English.
I’m always impressed when I find a short story collection that is consistent in its quality and impact. This is the first work that I’ve read by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o and let me just say that it didn’t disappoint. While famed as a novelist and playwright, I believe that short stories are a great way to sample a writer’s style. Here, Ngũgĩ’s writing style is simple but intentional. Some of the stories are as brief as 10 pages, yet even within so few pages, the stories were fully developed and left me hanging onto every word. Each story is stand alone but the collection had many overlapping themes such as the colonial legacy of Britain in Kenya, village life, marriage and gender relations, family and religion.
In the foreword, Ngũgĩ explains, "My writing is really an attempt to understand myself and my situation in society and in history". Thus, Minutes of Glory is a culmination of his desire to fight against a “culture of silence and fear” and stand up to colonial powers.
Many of the stories depict wealth disparities within communities due to British interference. In one story, there are two men who, though from the same region, are given very different opportunities in life. While one went to the British-funded school, speaks English and was given the chance to go to university, the other went to an underfunded school and has been forced into a life of poverty. In other stories this is demonstrated through how the richest members of the community have gained their wealth through becoming political mouthpieces for the colonial agenda and upholding ‘the white man’s religion’.
The majority of these stories engage with suffering or loss in a broad sense but they aren’t all bleak. Humour is used throughout and in every story there is some twist or unexpected turn to the narrative to create bathos. Ngũgĩ is an incredibly skilled storyteller and while his stories are simple, they are sensitive and beautifully crafted. My favourite stories were definitely ‘The Martyr’, ‘Minutes of Glory’ and ‘The Ghost of Michael Jackson’ but in truth, there wasn’t really a story I disliked in the entire collection.