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Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Wizard of the Crow (2006)

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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This is quite a book, it's huge, funny and involving. Although set in a fictional African country I guess it's a fantastic version of Kenya. The storyline is outrageous and nonsensical, but never feels particularly mplausible. There is satire, farce, romance and intrigue. ( )
  AlisonSakai | Sep 26, 2013 |
This sprawling satirical story is set in the fictitious African country Aburiria, which I understand resembles author [[Ngugi wa 'Thiong'o]]'s home country Kenya when it was under a dictatorship. The "Ruler" is an awful, totally self-centered man who is convinced the people love him even when they show how much he is detested. There are obvious similarities to self-obsessed dictators like Mobutu and Idi Amin. All his yes-men are busy trying to outmaneuver the others for his affection, and each secretly dreams of becoming the ruler himself. When the Ruler endorses an absurd project to build a tower to Heaven to show he's better than biblical predecessors, his sycophants can hardly contain themselves in their efforts to support it, and to secretly benefit from the inflow of money. Lengthy queues begin to form at appropriate government offices, filled with those planning to give a bribe in exchange for future rewards from the project. A huge funding loan is sought from a western bank, which then wants to scrutinize government operations.

Aligned against the Ruler and his parasites is job-seeking Kamiti, who can physically smell corruption (which often torments him in this endlessly corrupt country), and lovely Nyawira, a rebel group's leader who smells like flowers to Kamiti. Kamiti has herbal healing skills, and through various humorous twists becomes recognized as the miracle-working "Wizard of the Crow", whose assistance is sought by sycophants and rebels alike. His clever, intuitive solutions, with the assistance of a mirror, to the problems brought to him, comprise many of the highlights of the book.

The satirical dissection of post-colonial Africa is merciless. One sycophant, for example, is suffering so from "white-ache", the desire to be a British white man, that he can no longer say anything more than "If". His cure from the Wizard of the Crow may lie in finding out what it's like to be a member of a former power outstripped by history. Can Kamiti and Nyawira lead the rebels to toppling the absurd, corrupt regime of the Ruler, even while darting into the heart of it, and colliding with that regime in various dangerous roles? Can Kamiti turn his perceived wizarding skills to the rebellion's advantage? Can Kamiti and Nyawira find a sustainable life together in this crazy country?

I've mentioned before that the book made me think of a diverse group of works - [Tom Jones], as a rambling adventure story without the bawdiness, [Catch-22] in its satire of war and government, [Dr. Strangelove] for the same. It apparently was first serialized, so it has that episodic story quality of various [Dickens] novels, too. The New York Times reviewer said "it recalls a long yarn told by firelight." It was written in a Kenyan language that derives from an oral tradition, and then translated by the author. This all makes for a different kind of read than I previously have encountered, one that made me laugh and cheer on the exploits of Kamiti and Nyawira. At the same time, the novel casts a fierce satirical eye on a horribly corrupt government. I understand that this despotic rule, while taken to absurd lengths, unfortunately has strong roots in reality ( )
11 vote jnwelch | Jun 10, 2013 |
I loved this novel. There is so much that it is hard for me to really get into a good review, but I’ll try to work through some thoughts. Set in a fictitious African country, the reader is presented with an outrageous (and recognizable) dictator, his cabinet members and various politicos, corrupt businessmen, and our protagonists, Kamiti, an accidental sorcerer, and Nyawira, a political revolutionary. The Ruler, for his birthday, plans to build a modern Tower of Babel, financed by the Global Bank, and a series of satirical events pile onto one another.

It’s a very hard book to summarize. First, it is extremely long and dense. It delves into folklore, satire, allegory, fantasy, and comedy. Among the very sharp witted political observations, one explores the psyche and relationship of Kamiti and Nyawira, two delightfully independent people. (I find often when there is a romance in a novel, the main characters become semi-monolithic.)

This was a delightful read – fast-paced, poignant, humorous, and hopeful. Highly recommend. ( )
9 vote janemarieprice | Jun 15, 2011 |
The Wizard of the Crow begins with two queues. One forms in front of the office of a newly-appointed government official, made up of people looking for their own slice of governmental authority. The other line – which, as time goes on, attracts much of this first group – is for a counter-cultural and anti-institutional authority. The Wizard of the Crow comes to be known as a healer and prophet, even more powerful than the government officials in what he is able to make people do. Which, of course, is unacceptable. So the ruler of Aburiria decrees a warrant for the arrest of the Wizard and the havoc he has caused among the lower classes.

If he knew who the Wizard actually was, though, the idea of a threat would be either laughable or even more alarming than he thinks. Nyawira and Kamiti are two struggling young people, with wits but not means to access the country’s vicious economic power struggles. So their disdain for the power-hungry officials ends up being more powerful in its own right, as they sow the seeds of self-doubt and insecurity among the high and mighty. Nyawira’s and Kamiti’s awareness that they have little to lose, relative to these authority figures, paradoxically empowers them.

When one official visits the Wizard, he compliments Kamiti: “When I heard of the Wizard of the Crow, I thought of an old man, of seventy years or more, supporting himself with a walking stick. And now, behold! A young man in a designer suit. A modern sorcerer, eh? Or is it postmodern?”
“Postcolonial,” the Wizard of the Crow added.

And so it is. The Wizard’s rebellion against the ruler and government, out of touch with their people, is postcolonial in the empowerment and autonomy it allows for the people rather than the institution. The Wizard of the Crow does not just speak to the colonial experience of many African nations; it speaks to the experience of every oppressed group which finds and raises an alternative voice, subversively either matching or mocking the tone of those in power. ( )
1 vote the_awesome_opossum | Jan 15, 2011 |
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In his crowded career and his eventful life, Ngugi has enacted, for all to see, the paradigmatic trials and quandaries of a contemporary African writer, caught in sometimes implacable political, social, racial, and linguistic currents.
added by Shortride | editThe New Yorker, John Updike (Jul 31, 2006)
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In the spirit of the dead, the living, and the unborn

Empty your ears of all impurities, o listener,

That you may hear my story
This book is dedicated to my late parents
Wanjiku wa Thiong'o
Thiong'o wa Nducu
to my wife,
Njeeri wa Ngugi,
for your love, courage, strength, and support
First words
There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people's lips were five.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 037542248X, Hardcover)

From the exiled Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet, and literary critic--a magisterial comic novel that is certain to take its place as a landmark of postcolonial African literature.

In exile now for more than twenty years, Ngugl wa Thiong’o has become one of the most widely read African writers of our time, the power and scope of his work garnering him international attention and praise. His aim in Wizard of the Crow is, in his own words,nothing less than “to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history.”

Commencing in “our times” and set in the “Free Republic of Aburlria,” the novel dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburlrian people. Among the contenders: His High Mighty Excellency; the eponymous Wizard, an avatar of folklore and wisdom; the corrupt Christian Ministry; and the nefarious Global Bank. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, Wizard of the Crow reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity.

Informed by richly enigmatic traditional African storytelling, Wizard of the Crow is a masterpiece, the crowning achievement in Ngugl wa Thiong’o’s career thus far.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:43 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Commencing in 'our times' and set in the fictional 'Free Republic of Aburiria, ' Wizard of the Crow dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburirian people. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mozaic, this magnificent novel reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity."--Cover.… (more)

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