Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o: Sick, divorced and lonely life at 85 in US

Kenya’s renowned literary figure, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, finds himself in a challenging situation in the United States as he battles illness and undergoes a painful divorce from his second wife, Njeeri. This heart-wrenching narrative was recently brought to light in an article published by The Guardian, which details an interview conducted by Carey Baraka during his three-day visit to Ngũgĩ in the US.

According to The Guardian report, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o currently relies on caregivers to assist him in his day-to-day life. “During our conversation, we were interrupted by the doorbell. Two individuals entered, tasked with cleaning, cooking, and shopping for him. Ngũgĩ informed me that a health aide would soon arrive to monitor his health,” writes Baraka in The Guardian story.

The article further reveals that Ngũgĩ’s health has been deteriorating as he ages. In 1995, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, defying doctors’ grim prognoses that had given him just three months to live. Additionally, he underwent triple bypass heart surgery in December 2019. Around the same time, he began experiencing kidney failure, a condition that tragically claimed the life of one of his brothers.

During my visit, it became apparent that Ngũgĩ’s ability to leave his house had significantly diminished. Apart from his three weekly dialysis appointments, he was confined to his home due to his illness. “I am unable to move freely now due to my condition. You have to come to me. I am the king,” he expressed.

Baraka’s account also hints at the possibility of Ngũgĩ facing the early stages of dementia. “As we made our way to the dining table, his steps were slow and cautious. While Ngũgĩ has come to terms with the physical challenges of aging, the lapses in his memory continue to unsettle him. ‘Sometimes it frightens me when this happens,’ he admitted, ‘and I think, ‘This is it.'”

Regarding his divorce, Ngũgĩ himself revealed the situation to Baraka. “He confessed, ‘Although I may appear single, I am not.'” The article reports that he and his wife were in the midst of a divorce. Prior to their separation, they resided in University Hills, a neighborhood in Irvine popular among university faculty and close to the beach. Ngũgĩ would often take drives to the Pacific Ocean, finding inspiration for his most recent book, “The Perfect Nine.”

However, after moving out, Ngũgĩ now finds himself isolated from the ocean’s captivating sights and scents that once fueled his creativity. Living alone in a distant place without the ability to drive, he yearns for the serenity and inspiration he once derived from the beach.