This book tells the moving story about the effects of the Mau Mau war on the lives of ordinary men and women in Kenya. In the forests, the Mau Mau are waging war against the white government, and two brothers, Kamau and Njoroge, and the rest of the family must decide where their loyalties lie.
Published in the year 1964, this book was the first novel to be published by an East African. It is set at the tumultuous and violent time leading up to Kenya’s independence. This story is a realistic one, and one that has no fairy-tale happily-ever-after ending. But the ending is satisfying. And no, I am not going to spoil it for you. But I will describe it…
This is a coming-of-age story revolving around a young boy named Njoroge and his family. Njoroge, at the beginning of the novel, is offered the chance to go to school, an offer he has no compunction accepting and thus ends up being the first in the family to go to school. The only problem is that Njoroge is living at an unfortunate time of political unrest, with the natives fed up of British rule.
Like birth pangs, the rebellion begins with minor rallies which escalate to strikes and riots. As things get more and more tense in Kenya, communities are divided: the prosperous natives take sides with the colonialists while the other natives are on the opposing side. Each member of Njoroge’s family has to make a decision: Should they join the rebellion and possibly risk their jobs or ignore the tense atmosphere? Njoroge, meanwhile, goes on working hard at school, believing that once he has attained a good education, he will be better equipped to help his family – and country – better. Will things go according to plan for him? Or will the tide of violence and rage sweep all his dreams away?
This is a history of the Kikuyu in the era of Kenyan independence. But that doesn’t mean that the conditions Ngugi paints in this book applied to people of that area only. The struggles Njoroge goes through show how an individual can be – and usually is – affected by his/her surroundings.
If you are interested in a realistic and bare view of life in East Africa after World War II, get this book. It will show you just how east Africa was affected by the 2nd World War.
This was not the last book written by Ngugi wa Thiong’o – obviously; He wrote a number of books after. One of them that I will encourage you to read, is the book Matigari (it is also on my reading list). Here is an overview of the book, from Goodreads (only because it is quite brief):
Who is Matigari? Is he young or old; a man or fate; dead or living…or even a resurrection of Jesus Christ? These are the questions asked by the people of this unnamed country, when a man who has survived the war for independence emerges from the mountains and starts making strange claims and demands. Matigari is in search of his family to rebuild his home and start a new and peaceful future. But his search becomes a quest for truth and justice as he finds the people still dispossessed and the land he loves ruled by corruption, fear, and misery. Rumors spring up that a man with superhuman qualities has risen to renew the freedom struggle. The novel races toward its climax as Matigari realizes that words alone cannot defeat the enemy. He vows to use the force of arms to achieve his true liberation. Lyrical and hilarious in turn, Matigari is a memorable satire on the betrayal of human ideals and on the bitter experience of post-independence African society.
AFRICAN NOVELS REVIEWS