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Review: A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o

October 8, 2010

A Grain of Wheat coverTitle: A Grain of Wheat
Author: Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa
Length: 247 pages
Genre: Fiction, Colonialism, Kenyan
Publisher / Year: Heinemann  / 1967
Source: BookMooch.com
Rating: 4.5/5
Why I Read It: I really liked my first book by Thiong’o, Weep Not, Child.
Date Read: 17/09/10

Another great book by Kenyan author Thiong’o. This book is both a selection in the African Writers Series and was chosen as one of Africa’s 100 Best Books of the Twentieth Century by the Zimbabwe International Book Fair. This is the author’s third book (if I had been smart I would have picked up a copy of The River Between to read first and read them in order!), and the second which I have read. I’m really looking forward to more by the author and am glad I have more by him on my tbr shelf.

A Grain of Wheat follows a large collection of characters in the days preceding Uhuru, or independence, with flashbacks back to previous years to show what has passed in the village during the Mau Mau fight for independence and the colonialists crackdown. I don’t want to say too much about the story itself as going into it blind made it that much better for me, in my mind. I will just give you the (very short) description from the back cover:

The farmer Mugo, a hero of the villagers, is asked to make a speech honouring the memory of his friend Kihika, who was hanged by the colonial administrators.

Through the lens of the Mau Mau resistance and colonialist crackdown, the issue of loyalty is discussed and examined in depth. As we learn more and more about the different characters we get a more nuanced view of each. Each has a unique history that includes loyalty and disloyalty, and it is interesting to see what is acceptable and what is not. And who is praised, and by whom, and how everyone has a different opinion of what is good and what is bad.

Through the colonialist period we see the loyalty to the Mau Mau, and how that is tested in the detention centers and camps. We also see how many spurned the independence movement and threw their loyalty behind the colonialists and worked for them instead. In between are those who seem to be a bit murkier and don’t fully belong to either movement. Each person has his or her own reason for the choices he or she makes, and it is interesting to hear their reasons and to see how that effects the others around them.

It was especially interesting, to me, to see what happens as independence comes closer and closer. Some characters start to realize more and more that things might not end up being perfect just because they can rule their own country. So many people had supported the British and were questioning what would happen to them, and corruption seems to be on the rise. Politicians are already starting to line their own pockets and forget their people, and the country is just being born. So where are their loyalties? Are they still part of the Movement, or have they broken with it?

The ending was both depressing and hopeful. I loved the way it lets you decide for yourself what will happen with the couple, especially. I like to think they eventually reconcile and have a long and happy life. Anyone who has read it with me on that one?

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2010 8:52 am

    I haven’t read this one. I have rather read Weep Not Child, which I continue to quote from though I have this on my TBR. I think I would just get to the Bookshop and pick it up soon, very soon.

    By the late 1960s, most countries that has gained independence or about gaining them has realised that merely gaining independence does not lead to development. Yes, independence is key to development, it is a necessary condition but not a sufficient one, as apartheid South Africa can tell you. Sufficiency lies in the integrity of the rulers, those who pretend to be freedom fighters and anti-colonialists, only to boot them out of power and fill their paunch with national booties. Here, writers of the day, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Chinua Achebe and Ghana’s own Ayi Kwei Armah, being intelligent and far-seeing as they were, and probably being apolitical were able to talk, objectively, about them. It was during this bleary period that Ayi Kwei Armah wrote The Beautyful Ones are not yet Born, Chinua Achebe wrote No Longer at Ease, and Ngugi wrote A Grain of Wheat. The question is ‘have present day writers sold their conscience? Are we writing about it enough? Because prophecy is nothing other than saying what you see.

    Ngugi, writes very well and his Weep Not Child, is one novel that would make you cry. The shifting of allegiances. The use of even names in the story: There were the Howlands (part of the colonialists who own the land… see? How-Land); the Jacobos (those Africans whose allegiances lie with the Howlands… see the way Jacob has been spelt Africanly?) and the Ngothos (those Africans fighting for freedom, whose freedom lies with themselves, hence the un-anglicised African name).

    Don’t want to hijack this. Nice review. Thanks…

    • October 8, 2010 8:58 pm

      Great comment Nana! Thank you for it. And yes, that is exactly what this book is about – I think you must have read it ;) I highly recommend it!

  2. farmlanebooks permalink
    October 8, 2010 10:15 am

    I haven’t read anything by this author, but the continual mention of him in regards to the Nobel prize (especially long Guardian article today: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2010/oct/08/ngugi-wa-thiong-o-nobel-prize-literature) is making me very curious. I am going to be keeping an eye out for his books now and hope to read one very soon.

    • October 8, 2010 8:59 pm

      Oh Jackie, you really have to search him out! I don’t think you would be disappointed. I really love the two books I’ve tried by him so far.

  3. October 8, 2010 11:23 am

    Sometimes I really appreciate a book with an ambiguous ending. It gives me a lot to ponder over and sets the stage for me to think up multiple endings to the story. I am glad that you enjoyed the book so much and I am happy to hear that you have another book by the same author on your self. I will be interested in hearing what you think of it. Very nice review, Amy!

    • October 8, 2010 8:59 pm

      Thank you zibilee, I definitely love this author. Ambiguous endings sometimes just bother me to no end, but sometimes I like them :)

  4. October 8, 2010 12:29 pm

    I loved this book when I read it. I respect Ngugi so much for his works. Great review. But Nana Fredua, are you sure you haven’t read this. Your comment looks as though you’ve read it. You’ve made brilliant points there especially pertaining to the prophecy issue you raised. Amy! I enjoyed your thoughts.

    • October 8, 2010 1:50 pm

      Thanks Geosi, I haven’t yet read it. But I would soon. Very soon.

    • October 8, 2010 9:01 pm

      Yes, he is an author to respect for sure Geosi. Thank you. And you are right, Nana must have already read the book ;) hehe

  5. October 8, 2010 7:26 pm

    I want to read this at some point amy ,I can see why he was high on Nobel list ,this book looks really good ,seems to capture a country influx by what you say ,all the best stu

    • October 8, 2010 9:02 pm

      I think you would really love it Stu! I highly recommend it :)

  6. October 8, 2010 9:36 pm

    It’s been awhile, but I really enjoyed reading The River Between. Great review!

    • October 8, 2010 9:36 pm

      Oh I’ve heard really great things about that book reviewsbylola – it’s on my wish list :)

  7. October 9, 2010 5:15 am

    This is one of those authors I keep coming across in my studies, since I’m reading up on post-colonial theory and a lot of those that work with that theory analyse African literature. I’ve added it to my ever growing list, of course :)

  8. October 11, 2010 4:06 pm

    Oh yeah! I’m loving Ngugi all the more since I finished Wizard of the Crow (review coming soon). He is absolutely wonderful, wonderful! Great review.

    • October 12, 2010 10:01 am

      I can’t wait to read your review of that book Kinna – I have it on my tbr pile so need to get to it myself at some point.

  9. January 23, 2012 4:47 pm

    he has been on my wishlist for a while Amy ,he is often mentioned as a future nobel winner ,lovely review Amy ,all the best stu

  10. fatiha permalink
    May 31, 2012 12:15 pm

    i do not like him

    • Odom princewill c permalink
      November 14, 2012 10:50 pm

      what has he done to u?, please forget his personality and read his books i think you will like his views….

  11. Obutu Eric John permalink
    July 16, 2012 4:53 am

    I am inspired by Ngugi, his books are alive, look for instance Gikonyo and Mumbi look at karanja and the way he behave, does this one bring something into your mind of the rotten society,yes, A Grain of Wheat is such a book like no other. Yes, look at Ngugi series, do you see something that i see?

  12. Odom princewill c permalink
    November 14, 2012 10:45 pm

    A grain of wheat is a very interesting novel by ngugi, try and read it.

  13. January 26, 2013 2:02 pm

    ngugi’s novels are interesting i love his style of wrting . i have’ve read the river between :)

  14. changalwa japheth permalink
    June 19, 2013 2:35 pm

    Ngugi adopts different aspects of style to clearly explicate the real scenario of African struggle for independence. perhaps there is no winner at the end of the text because the different facets portrayed by major characters.

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