A story with the power to change how people view the last years of colonialism in East Africa, The Boy Is Gone portrays the struggle for Kenyan independence in the words of a freedom fighter whose life spanned the twentieth century’s most dramatic transformations. Born into an impoverished farm family in the Meru Highlands, Japhlet Thambu grew up wearing goatskins and lived to stand before his community dressed for business in a pressed suit, crisp tie, and freshly polished shoes. For most of the last four decades, however, he dressed for work in the primary school classroom and on his lush tea farm.
The General, as he came to be called from his leadership of the Mau Mau uprising sixty years ago, narrates his life story in conversation with Laura Lee Huttenbach, a young American who met him while backpacking in Kenya in 2006. A gifted storyteller with a keen appreciation for language and a sense of responsibility as a repository of his people’s history, the General talks of his childhood in the voice of a young boy, his fight against the British in the voice of a soldier, and his long life in the voice of shrewd elder. While his life experiences are his alone, his story adds immeasurably to the long history of decolonization as it played out across Africa, Asia, and the Americas.
About the Author
Laura Lee P. Huttenbach, a graduate of the University of Virginia, has written dispatches from South America, the Middle East, and Africa.
“The important work of recording Kenyan voices is brought to bear in Huttenbach’s excellent compilation: the General’s retelling of the Mau Mau period is highly vivid and complex.”—Focus on the Horn
“Those of us who teach African history are always looking for accessible and engaging books to assign our students. Africa is a vast unknown to most American college students. Most of us have developed strategies of easing them into the subject gently. Huttenbach’s book will fit the bill.” —John Edwin Mason, professor of African history at the University of Virginia and author of One Love, Ghoema Beat: Inside the Capetown Carnival
“Thambu’s account of the Mau Mau conflict—the central focus of the book—is unique among all the memoirs written by former Mau Mau: it is the only one authored by a non- Kikuyu African. …[It] has the potential to reshape the way we think about Mau Mau in Meru, and more broadly, outside Kikuyuland.” —International Journal of African Historical Studies
“Laura Lee did what every one of us in the African history field has always wanted to do. She actually lived with the family of her subject. They ate together, worked together (picking tea), stayed together. There is simply no better way for a White outsider to penetrate the core of Meru history.”—Jeffrey A. Fadiman, author of When We Began, There Were Witchmen: An Oral History from Mount Kenya
“This [is] a well-researched book that narrates the life history of a dignified freedom fighter without Western bias.”—Diaspora Messenger
“Laura Lee Huttenbach’s debut, The Boy Is Gone: Conversations with a Mau Mau General, is a unique first-hand account of cultural lineage, revolutionary awakening and dogged perseverance told in the voice Japhlet Thambu, a man who seems to have fit several lifetimes into the span of one. It is an essential testimony to those seeking to understand modern-day Kenya.”
—Michael Deibert, author of The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair