A Book That Breathes Life Into the Path of Uhuru

“Yesto be great you must stand in such a place that you can dispense pain and death to others without anyone asking questions. Like a headmaster, a judge, a Governor.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat, set in the days leading up to Kenya’s independence, depicts a cast of characters whose lives are unavoidably impacted by the struggle for independence.

As A Grain of Wheat was first published only four years after the independence, it is important to acknowledge how contemporary this book is to that history. Furthermore, wa Thiong’o himself, who had a brother in the Mau Mau, experienced the path to independence in ways similar to some of his characters.  The book is powerful in and of itself but knowing these facts makes us understand how close the author was to what he writes about and how significant and relevant this novel is.

Wa Thiong’o uses a large cast of characters, weaving together their intricate stories which all show some form of courage and weakness. As their experiences are revealed, it becomes apparent that even the people thought to be the most virtuous, executed some form of betrayal. The beauty of the book however, is that as the story progresses, we begin to be less critical of the characters for these betrayals, and start to understand them.

wa Thiong’o reveals the flaws of those we most want to believe are fully righteous, and the humanity of those we most want to revile.

He blurs the line between “good” and “bad” and allows us comprehend the mistakes and unlikable decisions the characters make for their sakes and for the sake of their cause.

“The coward lived to see his mother while the brave was left dead on the battlefield. And to ward off a blow is not cowardice.” (168)

Through these characters we ultimately learn that independence was not just the violent, turbulent time we read in history books, but was a human fight, as internal as it was external. The characters grapple so fiercely with themselves because they have been severely tainted by their circumstance, and have internalized it such that there is no real separation between their personal and political lives.

“It is not politics…it is life. Is he a man who lets another take away his land and freedom? Has a slave life?” (112).

In A Grain of Wheat, wa Thiong’o ultimately breathes life into the path to Uhuru, a path that is real and complex and reflective of innate humanity. When we see the personalities and pasts of the characters, we see the struggle and the triumph, and the struggle within the triumph during this pivotal time.

A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Penguin Modern Classics |2002| ISBN:978-0-14-118699-3

Review by Liyou Mesfin Libsekal

 Liyou Mesfin Libsekal  is an Ethiopian poet born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She spent the majority of her childhood in different parts of East Africa. She earned a BA in Anthropology from the George Washington University in 2012; she now lives in her home country. She’s the winner of the 2014 Brunel University African Poetry Prize. Find more of her work here and on Facebook

Kenya: Letter to My Nephew (For Ken Saro-Wiwa) | Mukoma Wa Ngugi

The sun is locked in evening, half shadow

half light, hills spread like hunchbacks over

plains, branches bowing to birth of night.

It’s an almost endless walk until the earth


opens up to a basin of water. You gasp

even the thin hairs on your forearm breathe,

flowers wild, two graves of man and wife

lying in perfect symmetry, overrun by wild


strawberries. Gently you part the reeds,

water claims the heat from the earth, you

soak your feet, then lie down hands planted

into the moist earth. You glow. Late at night


when you leave, you will fill your pockets

with wet clay. But many years from now,

you will try to find a perfect peace in many

different landscapes, drill water out of memory


to heal wounded limbs of the earth. You

will watch as machines turn your pond

inside out, spit the two graves inside out

in search of sleek wealth. Many years


later, after much blood has been lost and your

pond drained of all life you will wonder, shortly

before you become the earth’s martyr, what

is this thing that kills not just life but even death?

 

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, is the son of renowned African writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Born in Evanston, Illinois, he grew up in Kenya and is the author of Black Star Nairobi (2013), Nairobi Heat (2011), and Hurling Words at Consciousness (2006). He was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2009, and the Penguin Prize for African Writing for his novel manuscript, The First and Second Books of Transition, in 2010.  He teaches at Cornell University.

Culled From: http://mukomawangugi.com/

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