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The River Between by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
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The River Between (1965)

by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

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The writing’s incredibly concentrated and the more you look at it the more meanings you can find. His style is very much ‘tell, not show’. Normally that annoys me, but here it’s elevated to an art. It’s more like having someone tell you a story directly than reading a novel, but then every once in a while he surprises you with something beautifully poetic that brings things into focus. Superb ending as well, or lack of one, as you already know exactly what's going to happen. ( )
  Lukerik | May 12, 2015 |
An excellent description of the typical dilemma African culture has faced
since the introduction of Christianity, and the divisions it caused during the time when colonialism became fully entrenched. The challenge of cultural development is still relevant today, and this book is a good start in initiating discussion as to how this conundrum can be resolved.

The book presents the problem in the form of two villages on opposite sides of a river in the Central Highlands of Kenya, one clinging to tradition, and the other transformed by the acceptance of the missionaries' set of values.

One of the most controversial arguments, the issue of female circumcision, is handled in a way that invites thoughtful debate rather than outright condemnation. This subject would have been better brought out by a female African writer, but his attempt shows Ngugi's courage to make the attempt.

The strength of this writing is that the author does not take any particular side, but highlights a poignant irony instead. The title, The River Between, could be interpreted to mean that perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle. ( )
  BBcummings | Dec 24, 2014 |
It started out strongly and then completely petered out. I really had trouble keeping going after a while. The story is mainly about the Kikuyu tribes and their conflict with the incoming white missionaries and settlers but also amongst themselves. There are those who have converted to Christianity and the conflict bewteen them and the non-converts who stay with tribal ways is most of the story. But it all gets jumbled up and hard to follow and eventually meanders to a non-fulfilling end. Too bad, I thought it might be very interesting.
  amyem58 | Jul 3, 2014 |
Although this is a book set in Africa with a clash between cultures that are specifically African, it is much more. It is a story of what happens when two opposing sides on any issue both claim moral certainty. It is a story of what happens when ideology takes precedence over both rational thought and love for one’s neighbor.

Set in Kenya at a time when white missionaries have obtained a strong foothold and tradional tribal beliefs are being seen a evil, many find themselves torn between the long cherished beliefs of ancestors and the new promises of a better life after death, but with little promise of a better life while living. The main character of Waiyaki finds himself torn between the oath he took in becoming a man in the tribe and the realization of a better life that the white man’s education can bring his people now. His struggle to bring these ideals together prove that “no good turn ever goes unpunished.”

The role of female circumcision becomes the focus of the story but it is always in the background. This is the story of what happens when the fundamentals of a society shift. It is a story of sadness, respect, fear, and love. The author has taken an issue far removed from our culture today but has dealt with in in such a way that the reader can’t help but think of some of the fundamental issues that divide our culture today and how both sides seem so sure they are right. ( )
  maryreinert | Aug 25, 2013 |
This is a very important book and a pretty good read too. If you’ve read and appreciated Things Fall Apart, this is cast in the same vein and you will appreciate this.

Written in a similar lyrical style to The Life and Times of Michael K or Cry, The Beloved Country, The River Between tells the story of gradually deepening rifts in a community as the influences of colonialism make themselves felt. Factions appear and the battles between them force each and every individual to choose.

The vehicle for our experience of this conflict is Waiyaki, a man desperate to bridge the divides but inevitably doomed. His counterpart is Joshua, a man zealous for his Christian God and now blind to his cultural traditions.

The tension between these two men is bad enough but it is heightened considerably by the love shared between Waiyaki and Joshua’s daughter. I was glad this was a short novel because I don’t think I could have bared much more. It was intensely powerful.

Novels that chart the changes that cultures in this world have gone through in a generation or two are in themselves historical documents of the highest importance. Ngugi’s novel is one of these. I was very glad to hear Wikipedia say that this is a set text in Kenyan schools. I wish it was a set text in British schools. Taught sensitively, I think this book could save future generations some heartache. I’m glad to have learned more about the interaction of faith, tradition and clashing cultures. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Jan 2, 2013 |
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The two ridges lay side by side. One was Kameno, the other was Makuyu. between them was a valley. It was called the valley of life. Behind Kameno and Makuyu were many more valleys and ridges, lying without any discernible plan. They just slept, the big deep sleep of their Creator.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0435905481, Paperback)

Christian missionaries attempt to outlaw the female circumcision ritual and in the process create a terrible rift between the two Kikuyu communities on either side of the river. The people are torn between those who believe in Western/Christian education and the opportunities it will offer, and those who feel that only unquestioned loyalty to past traditions will save them. The growing conflict brings tragedy to a pair of young lovers who attempted to bridge the deepening chasm.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:44 -0400)

"Explores life on the Makuyu and Kameno ridges of Kenya in the early days of white settlement. Faced with an alluring new religion and 'magical' customs, the Gikuyu people are torn between those who fear the unknown and those who see beyond it. Some follow Joshua and his fiery brand of Christianity. Others proudly pursue tribal independence. In the midst of this disunity stands Waiyaki, a dedicated visionary born to a line of prophets. He struggles to educate the tribe--a task he sees as the only unifying link between the two factions--but his plans for the future raise issue which will determine both his and the Gikuyu's survival"--back cover.… (more)

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