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A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong'o
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A Grain of Wheat (1967)

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (12)  Swedish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (14)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
A Grain of Wheat centers on Kenya's Uhuru, its attainment of independence and self-government, a time of celebration and pride. But Thiong'o uses it as a backdrop for a dark drama that is anything but celebratory. It is bleak and difficultly written. The first time I tried to read it I couldn't become immersed in it the way one should, but it is worth the effort.

The village of Thabai is to host a ceremony for Uhuru and the elders decide that since a famous local hero Kihika was killed in the struggle for freedom, a friend of his, Mugo should sppeak for him. Mugo is a solitary man and his silence and hesitation to accept the honor intrigues the villagers and like Singer in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, confide in him and resurrect in Mugo's memories the horrors that were perpetrated against him, other Kenyans and what they inflicted upon themselves in the name of survival and security. ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
Obama: A chronicle of the events leading up to Kenya’s independence, and a compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships.
  Egaro | Jul 24, 2018 |
Novel set at the moment of Kenyan independence from the British, where the victorious Kenyans are not united but divided by their experience of colonial rule and the fight to be free. Tries to provide a panoramic view through the eyes of several characters, but Thiong'o clearly cares about some more than others, so it's all a bit uneven. The good bits are good though, and one of the characters (Mugo) is put in a desperate situation it would have been intriguing to read more about (if the whole book had been about him, I'd have been happy). The book lacked a bit of humour and vibrancy, but he has a good eye for the complexities present even at the liberation movement's moment of triumph. A book I liked more sitting and thinking about it afterward rather than in the process of reading. ( )
  roblong | Jul 9, 2012 |
Hnnnnh. Social realism. I respect Ngũgĩ's politics very much, even if I don't agree with him that African writing in English should be excoriated. But it's politics that led him to produce this humourless imitation of a European progressive's or hand-wringer's or moralist's book about late-imperial race relations, echoic of A Passage to India without the mysticism or Elsa Morante's History: A Novel without the majestic sweep or The Heart of the Matter without the Catholic guilt.

Against the backdrop of Kenyan Uhuru, people do things to each other. Just because it's every hack historical novel doesn't mean it doesn't have promise, especially with a good guide. But Ngũgĩ doesn't seem to want to show the world his people's pain or to be writing to his people themselves with this plodding 19th century Euro–style story. And the political thing doesn't complicate matters that much really--these can be (are) worthy stories, stories that deserve to be told, and still be boring. The Great Kenyan Boring Social Realist Novel.

Flaws: Annoyingly elevated language, this sludgy version of an Oxbridge pedant smack dab up against passages of embarrassing puerility, like the pedant is talking to a three-year-old. Drifting from section to section with no narrative drive, like someone who doesn't get that art requires composition, that it's not just a bunch of stuff that happened. The aforementioned humourlessness, the inability to not hammer you over the head with the point in symbolism and then state it straight out to conclude. Cf. Ngũgĩ's opposite number on the language question, Chinua Achebe, who's a laffaminnit. In what's ostensibly a political novel, no discussion of the politics, no effort to represent a people fighting for its freedom and working out its issues for good and ill--we get a family drama against a cardboard backdrop with some unintentionally-over-the-top-repressed Englishmen for colour. In contrast to those (the Forster-parodic) passages, some histrionically overwrought writing--even worse when it's in dialogue--I won't say "nobody talks like that," because how do I know how people talk in Gikuyu, but if they do talk like that--every long speech an opportunity to deliver a moral or a message--then I'm surprised they can't come up with better writers than Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. Those kind of moments make this almost allegory at times, as words and characters take on that allegorical flatness and weight; but then not always, and sometimes the characters that are really just creakily advancing the plot, like General R. (for Russia), wrongfoot you because you can't help but start to interpret a name like that and then it just seems like Ngũgĩ doesn't know what he's doing.

As a result of those annoying expository speeches, where it seems like the characters are breaking the fourth wall even though they're not because their patter is so clearly, clumsily crafted for the audience, some themes do emerge clearly from the sludge: good people in a bad, and massively unmanageable, system; the psychic damage that comes from being forced to betray your people and principles and live off your oppressors; the revelation and reverberation and return of the repressed. Some of those things are done with some moments of skill, but it still sort of seems like watching your kid do gymnastics; you cut slack, and I do wish Ngũgĩ's book didn't seem exquisitely calculated to elicit the most slack possible from the literary establishment &c. I worry a bit that my implicit expectation here is that he do something funny and magical and demon-filled, or similar, that I'm exoticizing the African novel and being too hard on Ngũgĩ for attempting realism, but you know, he exoticizes his own people--like, look at the Mugo character: "Strong me strong. Life, he dark. Jackboots. Hulk Smash. Poorly handled there-but-for-the-grace-of-God moment." A strength that again I don't think Ngũgĩ knows is a strength or he'd've done more of it is the through-the-looking-glass stuff about world affairs: the way the Kenyan soldiers talk about Napoelon, or Lincoln who the British hung because he led the slaves to rebel against them, or the feeling that ruling Kenya for the late imperials wasn't so much about pretending to superpower status in the eyes of the world as it was about pretending to it in the eyes of the people they ruled, because the Kenyans here seem as convinced of the baleful majesty of yer average redfaced Englishman as so many people on the Subcontinent still are (and I think many more until the last couple of decades, not that I speak from any place other than ignorance and guesswork here) about the superiority of British culture. So not only is it historically bereft, it's culturally bereft too, drained of the broth of practices and references that make real life real.

And sometimes it's just clummmmsy--when he rolls out "uncontrollable fury" to describe what sounds like a funny old lady's hissy fit. I found this thing linked below, and it seems like he's just not a good writer. It also feels uncomfortably like he may be exploiting racism and injustice to force people to pay attention to him.

http://www.africaresource.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&... ( )
1 vote MeditationesMartini | Jul 1, 2012 |
A Grain of Wheat takes place during Kenya's struggle for independence from British rule in the 1950s. It centers around four central African characters and one British administrator. The central theme of the story is deceit both on a national and personal level. Two examples:
Ngugi's main character is Mugo, a quiet Kenyan who is sent to the concentration camps. He is a complex, yet human character in that he is seen as a hero in the concentration camps but once released he sides with the British as a traitor. Another strong character of A Grain of Wheat is Gikonya, another detainee from the concentration camp who is released early only to find that his wife has been unfaithful and has a child with another man. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Feb 29, 2012 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ngugi wa Thiong'oprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gurnah, AbdulrazakIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Klíma, VladimírTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0435909878, Paperback)

This is a compelling account of the turbulence that inflamed Kenya in the 1950s and its impact on people's lives. Five friends and agemates make different choices when the Mau Mau rebellion erupts in colonial Kenya. Kihika joins the freedom fighters in the forest; Gikonyo supports the rebels, but is arrested and detained; Mumbi, Gikonyo's wife, works to keep family and home together in the village; Karanja chooses to support the more powerful British masters; Mugo ultimately betrays his friends and loses his life in a desperate attempt to stay alive and stay neutral.

In this ambitious and densely worked novel, we begin to see early signs of Ngugi's increasing bitterness about the ways in which the politicians, not the fighters or their families, are the true benefactors of the rewards on independence.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:42 -0400)

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"Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya's independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952-1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village's chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers' tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested."--Publisher.… (more)

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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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