Ngugi wa Thiong’o is Kenya’s most celebrated writer and taht does not come out of just hot air. He writes with a passion and in what he believes in. The very first time i read a Ngugi book, i was in bed recuperating after a minor surgery. A neighbour offered me Ngugi’s book, Petals of Blood, and though i did not like it, i was somehow drawn to Ngugi’s books. Then the next time i heard that he had a book was when he released Wizard of the Crow (Mùrùgi wa Kagoogo), in his mother tongue, Kikuyu, i so very much wanted to get that copy. But my parents laughed at me and told me that the Kikuyu would be a bit too tricky for me. Well, i guess they had a point.
Wizard of the Crow was his first book after 20 years with the one before that as Petals of Blood. The book is about Africa’s rulers, their relations with the outside world and their home “rule”. It is set in the fictional country of Abùriria. The Ruler is just known as The Ruler and he has his cabinet all of whom are his puppets craving for his attention yet they are fighting underneath all that. The Ruler knows all of this but to ensure that his rule will have no end, he keeps them.
Marching to Heaven is a project set to build the tallest structure in the world, taller than the Tower of Babel, and The Ruler takes pride in it. Marching to Heaven thus serves as the point of conflict in the whole novel. The Ruler seeks funding from the Global Bank so as to be able to finance his pet project, Marching to Heaven, but there are elements who are against his rule in Abùriria. One of these elements is Nyawira, one half of the Wizard of the Crow, who bumps into the other half, Kamiti, while they are being chased by police officers across Eldares, the capital city of Abùriria. The duo then establishes the wizardry “business” accidentally while trying to fend off their pursuers. Kamiti has a connection to the Marching to Heaven project since he had gone to ask for work from the man-in-charge of the Marching to Heaven, Tajirika. Tajirika throws him out in a disgusting manner though they later meet even before Kamiti has met with The Ruler.
The good thing with the book is the amount of humour that is used. It is not your usual kind of HA-HA-HA-HA humor but rather the subtle “I-Find-That-Funny” humor. Who would have thought of Cabinet ministers going to have their tongues elongated, their eyes widened and their ears made larger so that they could just appease The Ruler? Everything The Ruler does is marked in 7s. 7 years, 7 months, 7 days, 7 hours, 7 minutes and 7 seconds. Reading the book, you can actually feel the absurdities that African rulers and their “servants” go through as they try to appease their Western cousins yet while they are at home they lambast them in every public fora that they get.
One huge turn off that one might find about the book is the fact that the author is the one who forces the characters to act. Even though, the book is not your usual run-of-the-mill political satire, there is no absolute justification in having the characters respond to different situations in weird manners. For example, why did The Ruler’s body all of a sudden stop swelling and he returned to his normal size? Why does Arigaigai Gathere (better known as AG) keep on saying “”Haki ya Mungu” whenever he is narrating? This leaves the reader in unusual situations as he tries to piece the storyline so far.
All in all, this is an excellent read only if you have the patience to try and put the story into context. On a ranking of one to Ngugi-before-2000, he would get the same marks as he did for Devil on the Coss (Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ngũgĩ was born in Kamiriithu near Limuru and he was baptised James Ngugi. He received his B.A in English from Makerere University during which his first play, The Black Hermit, was produced in 1962. In 1964, he wrote his first novel, Weep Not, Child, while at the University of Leeds in England. He retrned to Kenya in the early 1970s to teach at the University of Nairobi’s Literature Department but due to his highly political leanings was detained by President Daniel Arap Moi. In prison, he wrote Devil on the Cross on toilet paper. After his release, he went into exile for over 20 years and only came back when President Moi was out of power. He is currently a Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature as well as the Director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine. Ngugi lives in California with his wife and two children.
Other books by Ngugi include:
© chiira maina (his blog)