Review: A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o
Title: A Grain of Wheat
Author: Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa
Length: 247 pages
Genre: Fiction, Colonialism, Kenyan
Publisher / Year: Heinemann / 1967
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?