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

by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

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5341530,105 (3.73)1 / 89
"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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Well, this is a book that took me right out of my comfort zone... I like to think that I am respectful of other cultures, but not when they conflict with my own deeply held liberal-democratic values about human rights.
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is an author often suggested as a potential winner of the Nobel Prize, and this book, The River Between is listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.
At one level, this is a simple love story set in the mid-colonial period, an African Romeo and Juliet in which two young people from opposing Gikuyu villages fall in love and attempt to transcend the ancient rift between their communities, with tragic results. On a more complex level, the novel engages with Kenya's precolonial and colonial history. It depicts the slow but steady infiltration by the British; the alienation of local people from their land; the negative effects of Christian mission on local power structures, rituals and relationships; and the deep disunity between different African factions that preceded the anticolonial struggle of the 1950s. (1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Ed. Perter Boxall, ABC Books, 2006 Edition, p.574)
Well, yes, it does all that in just 152 pages, and it does so in deceptively simple language and an ordinary chronological structure. But what made me read it with a sense of seething rage was the way circumcision, and female circumcision in particular, is used to symbolise the purity of the tribe and is therefore a ritual worth protecting against change.
To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/03/26/the-river-between-by-ngugi-wa-thiongo-bookre...
Joshua is a Christianised firebrand preacher who has decreed that his daughters will not be circumcised because it is a pagan ritual. Muthoni, the elder of the two, decides that she wants to be a real woman, knowing all the ways of the hills and ridges, so she defies her father and takes part in the annual initiation ceremonies. So does Waiyaki, a young man who tentatively believes his father's prophecy that he will be a leader of his people. Thiong'o describes at length the agony of the male circumcision, without a word about the agony of the female experience, nor the denial of her sexuality, nor the risks associated with not only the lack of basic surgical hygiene but also the risk of death or permanent disabling injury in childbirth. Opposition to circumcision is parcelled up with all the other wrongs that the Christianising colonising interlopers bring with them: dispossession, racism, taxes and political interference, as if the missionaries could even have known about female circumcision if not for witnessing its terrible consequences in their hospitals. Thiong'o addresses the male expectation that their wives be circumcised only obliquely, by depicting his villagers' assertion that no man would want to trade his cows for an uncircumcised wife, and he makes Muthoni complicit in her own mutilation by investing the procedure with secret female knowledge while never mentioning that female circumcision is merely a brutal technique for ensuring fidelity because intercourse is consequently so painful. Muthoni dies, and the villagers ascribe her death to the malevolent influence of the new religion. There is no mention of the infection which is obvious to any contemporary reader, only its symptoms. To read the rest of my review please visit ( )
  anzlitlovers | Mar 25, 2018 |
The Honia River in Kenya is in the isolated tribal lands of the Gikuyu in Kenya. On either side of the Honia are the Kameno and Makuyu ridges, inhabitants of which follow opposing philosophies on how to peacefully coexist with the influx of whites who are settling on tribal land. Christian missionaries have built churches and schools and taught converts the tribal customs of male and female circumcision must stop. Battle lines are being draw up by Joshua who preaches Christianity/coexistence with the whites and Kobonyi who argues for the retention of tribal customs/armed expulsion of the whites. Chege’s son Waiyaki seeks reconciliation between the two opposing factions. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
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 |
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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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