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Un bob de grâu

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Considerat capodopera lui Ngugi wa Thiong’o, romanul Un bob de griu urmareste destinele unui grup de sateni chiar inainte de proclamarea independentei Kenyei fata de Imperiul Britanic, in 1963, dupa revolta Mau Mau. In centrul povestii se afla Mugo, un om bintuit de un secret teribil. Personajele care-l inconjoara se afla intr-o strinsa legatura cu momentele importante pri Considerat capodopera lui Ngugi wa Thiong’o, romanul Un bob de griu urmareste destinele unui grup de sateni chiar inainte de proclamarea independentei Kenyei fata de Imperiul Britanic, in 1963, dupa revolta Mau Mau. In centrul povestii se afla Mugo, un om bintuit de un secret teribil. Personajele care-l inconjoara se afla intr-o strinsa legatura cu momentele importante prin care trece Kenya si, dupa cum o arata numele lor, sint purtatoarele unor simboluri cu o mare incarcatura istorica: batrinul Warui (riul), care face legatura intre marile etape din evolutia poporului; Gikonyo (buricul), in care ceilalti vad cordonul ombilical ce leaga generatiile intre ele, si nevasta sa, Mumbi, numita astfel dupa mama simbolica a poporului gikuyu. Mugo insusi poarta numele unuia dintre cei mai venerati profeti ai comunitatii si este onorat in roman ca mintuitor al poporului sau. Pe masura ce ni se dezvaluie destinele intortocheate ale satenilor, intr-o naratiune in care miturile se impletesc cu trimiteri la personaje istorice reale, sub ochii nostri ia nastere o poveste despre compromisuri inevitabile, prietenii tradate si iubiri puse la incercare.


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Considerat capodopera lui Ngugi wa Thiong’o, romanul Un bob de griu urmareste destinele unui grup de sateni chiar inainte de proclamarea independentei Kenyei fata de Imperiul Britanic, in 1963, dupa revolta Mau Mau. In centrul povestii se afla Mugo, un om bintuit de un secret teribil. Personajele care-l inconjoara se afla intr-o strinsa legatura cu momentele importante pri Considerat capodopera lui Ngugi wa Thiong’o, romanul Un bob de griu urmareste destinele unui grup de sateni chiar inainte de proclamarea independentei Kenyei fata de Imperiul Britanic, in 1963, dupa revolta Mau Mau. In centrul povestii se afla Mugo, un om bintuit de un secret teribil. Personajele care-l inconjoara se afla intr-o strinsa legatura cu momentele importante prin care trece Kenya si, dupa cum o arata numele lor, sint purtatoarele unor simboluri cu o mare incarcatura istorica: batrinul Warui (riul), care face legatura intre marile etape din evolutia poporului; Gikonyo (buricul), in care ceilalti vad cordonul ombilical ce leaga generatiile intre ele, si nevasta sa, Mumbi, numita astfel dupa mama simbolica a poporului gikuyu. Mugo insusi poarta numele unuia dintre cei mai venerati profeti ai comunitatii si este onorat in roman ca mintuitor al poporului sau. Pe masura ce ni se dezvaluie destinele intortocheate ale satenilor, intr-o naratiune in care miturile se impletesc cu trimiteri la personaje istorice reale, sub ochii nostri ia nastere o poveste despre compromisuri inevitabile, prietenii tradate si iubiri puse la incercare.

30 review for Un bob de grâu

  1. 4 out of 5

    Khashayar Mohammadi

    Great introduction to African literature. I can't believe this is the first book I'm reading by an African writer.

  2. 5 out of 5

    MK

    This is not an easy book. It's awful and unsettling in so many ways. I think that for me, the book is not about Uhuru/Kenyan independence, or even the fight for it. For me, the book is mostly about the horrific effects of colonialism on the people, not just the Africans, but mostly the Africans, but also the effects, in glimpses, of the African culture on the African people. (Or, rather, was that the traditional African culture, or how it became under the brutalization that was normalized under c This is not an easy book. It's awful and unsettling in so many ways. I think that for me, the book is not about Uhuru/Kenyan independence, or even the fight for it. For me, the book is mostly about the horrific effects of colonialism on the people, not just the Africans, but mostly the Africans, but also the effects, in glimpses, of the African culture on the African people. (Or, rather, was that the traditional African culture, or how it became under the brutalization that was normalized under colonization?) "Colonial" sounds almost pretty to an American in the 21st century. What colonialism was, was not pretty. Not by a long shot. It was brutal, in-humanizing, horrific, awful ... just a system of hollowing out whatever wealth was to be had, by whatever means, from whatever piece of ground was 'colonized'. I wish I had known to pay attention to the characters in the beginning, and to realize that they'd reappear in very different incarnations later in the novel. What "The Emergency" (a dozen years of basically martial law - also known as the Mau Mau Uprising, or the Mau Mau Rebellion, or the Mau Mau Revolt - preceding Uhuru/Independence) did to the various characters in the novel, the ways in which it changed those that survived, is raw. Those who died, those who were sent to concentration/detention camps, those who ran from the villages to the forest to fight - to become freedom fighters, terrorists, a defending army, all of those things -, those who became turncoats - brutalizing in turn former peers -, those who were the authority ... everyone, everyone is affected. Still hard to rate. As I began the novel, it didn't seem special. A one-star, a two? Past the halfway mark it was a five-star, at the end, I don't know. It's not a fluffy or gentle read, that's for sure.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    A Grain of Wheat centres a political narrative about the struggle for independence and liberation in Kenya; about rebellion against British imperialism, and on this level it is searing, laying bare the injustice from the point of view of a richly varied cast of rural Kenyan people. Ngugi draws on Conrad to nuance the idealistic, but cold and inhuman character of the white DO, Thompson. He gives space to the character of each of the people in the village, revealing their motives in all their ambi A Grain of Wheat centres a political narrative about the struggle for independence and liberation in Kenya; about rebellion against British imperialism, and on this level it is searing, laying bare the injustice from the point of view of a richly varied cast of rural Kenyan people. Ngugi draws on Conrad to nuance the idealistic, but cold and inhuman character of the white DO, Thompson. He gives space to the character of each of the people in the village, revealing their motives in all their ambiguity and mystery. The book shifts its tone from the magnified detail of the psychological novel to the broader framing of folk-anecdote and the rhythmic transmission of oral tradition, addressing the reader as an unidentified 'I', encompassing the village and sinking, a polymorphous identity, into the crowd. This innovative fluidity is refreshing to my spirit and allows an unusually rich and multifaceted emotional resonance to build. Often phlegmatic, the narrative gathers force and power as it patiently traces each person's tributary of recall to the communal estuary.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Davide

    Two Hearts (are better than one?) I could start with two quotes, words spoken by two characters in two very different dialogues: «Which of us does not carry a weight in the heart?» And: «Strike terror in the heart of the oppressor.» A Grain of Wheat, 1967: we are just a few years from the end of colonial rule (the day of proclamation of the independence of Kenya is December 12, 1963) and there is nothing celebratory. Indeed, the dominant theme is betrayal, ubiquitous in all its meanings and ramificati Two Hearts (are better than one?) I could start with two quotes, words spoken by two characters in two very different dialogues: «Which of us does not carry a weight in the heart?» And: «Strike terror in the heart of the oppressor.» A Grain of Wheat, 1967: we are just a few years from the end of colonial rule (the day of proclamation of the independence of Kenya is December 12, 1963) and there is nothing celebratory. Indeed, the dominant theme is betrayal, ubiquitous in all its meanings and ramifications. And, with betrayal, existential solitude, involving everyone (even whites): the consequence of frustrated aspirations to communion with the others («a time will come when you too will know that every man in the world is alone, and fights alone, to live», says a character). But all this joins to the need for revolt, to fragments of mythical tale of struggles, to strong contact with the earth. Who tells the story? It is not declared, but sometimes it is perceived that the narrator is one of the place, an anonymous spokesman for a community: «Most of us from Thabai»; «In our village»... We are in a rural area of ​​Kenya, inhabited by Gikuyu (the name recalls me vague memories of Out of Africa by Karen Blixen...). There is no direct description, but from the songs and proverbs mentioned we can reconstruct a mythical past: an original matriarchy and the subsequent rebellion of men, who agree to put all women pregnant and take power during the pregnancy's weakness. Very important is the interlacing of times, at the beginning obviously confusing but then fascinating; and in the end fairly clear. The glorious and terrible moment of revolt, the conquest of independence, is already in the past. And it is not only a bright past (treachery was already present, with suffering, prison, detention camps, violence). The present is much more prosaic and, above all, is full of wounds. Actually, the present is not the time when things happen. Mostly, it seems to be an opportunity to bring out the main narrative, as a screen where is projected - already distanced - the past, recent and less recent. So the true narrative is almost all retrospective, emerges progressively, at different times and with different points of view. Sometimes, in some more legendary fragments, going back to the first steps of a liberation movement in the 1920s. There is a frequent presence, in English, of local words, from "Uhuru", the swahili word meaning freedom, in particular the political independence of Kenya that is being achieved. And then: "shamba", "jembe", "panga" and so on (in the seventies Ngugi will go directly to writing in African languages). The main characters (Mugo, Gikonyo, Karanja...) have all a difficult present and a richer past (if they are not already dead as Kihika, the hero of freedom). Particularly emerges the importance of Mumbi, who carries the name of the first woman according to the myths of gikuyu origins; so she represents the woman par excellence, tied to the protagonists of the liberation movement and disputed by several men. The interior division does not lack on the other side: even characters who have played a role as repressor and torturer to defeat rebels had a noble vision of the British Empire as «one British nation, emracing peoples of all colours and creeds, based on the just proposition that all men are created equal». Among Kenyan fighters, instead, the models of freedom can be the Russians like Gandhi and Lincoln, who «had been executed by the British for leading the black folk in America into a revolt» and Napoleon, «one of the biggest warriors in history» whose voice alone «made the British urinate and shit on their calves inside their houses.» But the vision of the hero Kihika is always nourished by the Bible (in particular, of course, Exodus): «a people united in faith are stronger than the bomb». All this past and the wounds it left, the hopes of social and personal changes: everything is dancing around the few days of preparation and feast for independence. «It was not a happy feeling; it was more a disturbing sense of an inevitable doom», but some hope of recovery in the relationship torn (view spoiler)[between Gikonyo and Mumbi (hide spoiler)] can be cautiously expanded to a more general view. [I have read the Penguin African Writers edition, with an introduction by Abdulrazak Gurnah. I believe it is the version revised in 1987; but how big were the changes? There is no precise information.] [given the keyword of the book, a possible anachronistic soundtrack would be this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1wWiS...] [nel 2017, cinquantenario della prima edizione, è stata ristampata anche una traduzione italiana, ma l'ho solo presa in mano senza leggerla]

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kyriakos Sorokkou

    AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 4 TITLE: A Grain of Wheat AUTHOR: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o COUNTRY: Kenya This was not an easy novel. The exchange between the present and the past was (mainly at the beginning) confusing, but you get used to it as the novel progress. The same goes with the names. You don't know if Mumbi is a woman or a man, or if Karanja is a she or a he. But you get used to it as well. The present time of A Grain of Wheat takes place in the 4 days before Kenya's independence from the British AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON BOOK: 4 TITLE: A Grain of Wheat AUTHOR: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o COUNTRY: Kenya This was not an easy novel. The exchange between the present and the past was (mainly at the beginning) confusing, but you get used to it as the novel progress. The same goes with the names. You don't know if Mumbi is a woman or a man, or if Karanja is a she or a he. But you get used to it as well. The present time of A Grain of Wheat takes place in the 4 days before Kenya's independence from the British Empire in December 1963. The past time takes place during the Emergency in the 1950's during the Mau Mau rebellion against the European settlers. The past time is almost equal in length (if not longer) from the present. The Characters: Kihika: the hero, the fighter, the one that sacrifices himself for the good of his people. Mumbi: his sister wife of Gikonyo, the beauty of the village. Gikonyo: was detained in concentration camps during the emergency, and upon his release something makes him estranged from his beloved wife, Mumbi. Mugo: the quiet, seclusive hero of the village who saved a pregnant woman from whipping and was tortured in result. He holds a terrible secret. Karanja: A rival of Gikonyo, in love with Mumbi, he is the friend of the colonialists, in order to save his own hide. DO Thompson: A caricature of the British imperialism: a savage, inhuman white-man, that his aim is to eliminate the brutes. The irony (if it's possible to be applied here) is that he, the European, cultured, western man is more savage and inhuman than the people of Africa that Europeans always (simplistically) perceived as the savages of the jungle. Myself, even though not a Kenyan, I saw similarities of Kenya's revolt of the Mau-Mau, with Cyprus' revolt of EOKA against the same enemy, the British Empire, both revolts happened in the 1950's. Concentration camps (my late great uncle had an experience of this), hangings, traitors, searches in houses, independence. . . As with Cyprus, the heroes are about to experience independence. What is independence? Prosperity and eternal peace? Or is this independence only an idealised dream. In Cyprus it was indeed a dream that lasted 3 years (1960-1963 (the year when Kenya was gaining her independence we realised that independence has to be maintained) ). I can't say what this upcoming independence will bring to Kenya (possible spoilers) but it's certainly not an idealised dream. In this political novel we see a group of people waiting for Uhuru (Freedom in Swahili) - Independence day and we travel through their memories in the past during the uprisings, and we see their experiences, their mistakes, their history, and through their eyes we see Kenya's history as a whole. Even though not an easy novel (especially for those who prefer straightforward narratives) it's not hard either and it's rewarding. Firstly because you get to know Kenya's history and culture, myths and realities, and secondly you are able to see the humanity in the black "savage" and the inhumanity in the white "cultured" man. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o began writing in the imperial language of English using an English name (James) and the in the late 1970's he rejected the colonial name and identity and started writing in Kikuyu (his native language) with his more correct name Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. The irony is that by using Kikuyu a native language of Kenya in a play instead of English, he was detained by those (lauded heroes) who were fighting the British for Kenyan Independence from the British Imperialism and the Colonial language English I'm interested in reading more by him. 3.5 stars You can see the complete list of my African Books here:

  6. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    Uhuru is a Swahili word that means freedom. It is a rallying cry for freedom fighters and the name given to the day when Kenya became an independent country in 1963. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o takes a magnifying glass to the feelings, motives and consciences of people caught up in the events leading up to Uhuru. Viewed from a distance of years and oceans, the lead-up to independence and ultimate triumph over the colonialists is unequivocally a time of celebration for Kenyans. Thiong'o dashes this picture Uhuru is a Swahili word that means freedom. It is a rallying cry for freedom fighters and the name given to the day when Kenya became an independent country in 1963. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o takes a magnifying glass to the feelings, motives and consciences of people caught up in the events leading up to Uhuru. Viewed from a distance of years and oceans, the lead-up to independence and ultimate triumph over the colonialists is unequivocally a time of celebration for Kenyans. Thiong'o dashes this picturesque vision with images of grief-stricken mothers, of relationships thwarted by war and women selling their bodies for the price of a loaf of bread, of the weight of betrayal wrung by the instinct of self-preservation and the gulf that can open between two people caught in the cyclone of events whirling during the Emergency years. Even heroes have their secrets, and the resolve of the strong can be weakened in manifold ways. In the honest words of one freedom fighter, "Many of us talked like that because we wanted to deceive ourselves. It lessens your shame. We talked of loyalty to the movement and the love of our country. You know a time came when I did not care about Uhuru for the country any more. I just wanted to come home. And I would have sold Kenya to the whiteman to buy my own freedom." The inner lives of the villagers of the fictional town of Thabai are strung through with political tension. Thiong'o constructs his story slowly, weaving back and forth through different storylines, visiting different time periods and peopling different huts. The momentum builds as the day of Uhuru dawns and the murky events of the preceding years are gradually drawn into sharper focus, with all the suspense of a thriller that is magnificently captured by a long-distance race on the morning of Independence. There is a cloud that hangs over the novel, one that has yet to dissipate in the intervening decades. The men who turned their backs on the movement to lick the heels of the whiteman were not brought to justice, but were the first to benefit from a Kenya owned by the black man. If I speak in black-and-white terms, it is to match Thiong'o's own unflinchingly caustic portrayal of all the white colonialists that pass through his pages. I have not done the research myself, but the ongoing political corruption that plagues Kenya stands to back his claims, and casts another shadow on the celebrations that should accompany the freedom of any nation. A Grain of Wheat was of biting relevance at the time of its publication in 1967, and the questions it provokes resonate up to the present time. What is Uhuru, and did Thiong'o's characters truly attain it? Is Kenya a free and independent nation?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Harry Rutherford

    A Grain of Wheat is a novel about the inhabitants of a village in Kenya in 1963 in the last few days before the celebrations for Uhuru — that is, Kenyan independence. It was originally published in 1967, so the material was completely current at the time, although after finishing it that I read in the introduction that Ngũgĩ revised A Grain of Wheat in 1987, to make the ‘world outlook’ of his peasants more in line with his ideas of the historical triumph of the oppressed. and that Ngũgĩ has said o A Grain of Wheat is a novel about the inhabitants of a village in Kenya in 1963 in the last few days before the celebrations for Uhuru — that is, Kenyan independence. It was originally published in 1967, so the material was completely current at the time, although after finishing it that I read in the introduction that Ngũgĩ revised A Grain of Wheat in 1987, to make the ‘world outlook’ of his peasants more in line with his ideas of the historical triumph of the oppressed. and that Ngũgĩ has said of the 1967 version of A Grain of Wheat that his ‘peasant and worker characters’ had the ‘vacillating mentality of the petite bourgeoisie’. As far as I can gather, the revisions were relatively minor, and I guess I support the author’s right to mess around with his earlier work if he wants to, but I still find it vaguely frustrating not knowing what was what. And it seems like an odd thing to do, to me. But there you go. Incidentally, Ngũgĩ’s early work, including this book, was written in English, but for the past 30 years or so he has written in Gĩkùyũ. Rejecting the colonial language has obvious political and social significance, but to switch from a language with hundreds of millions of speakers to one which is a minority language even in Kenya is still a striking decision. The characters in the book are all dealing with the aftermath of the Mau Mau rebellion, having lost family members or having suffered detention, forced labour and torture. There’s something slightly topical about that at the moment; not just because we recently learned that Barack Obama’s grandfather was tortured by the British at that period, but also because insurgents being detained without trial and tortured have been in the news recently. I didn’t read the book, though, as being principally about the relationship between colonist and colonised. Rather, it’s about the relationships between the Africans and the way they’ve been affected by events. Some of them worked for the British; others fought them. A man returns to his wife after years away in prison to find she has had a baby by another man. No one is left untouched. All this is told in flashback, so we gradually learn how characters became the way they are. Obviously none of this would have happened if it wasn’t for the British, so they (we) are central in that sense, but still, the novel is building up to Uhuru, when the young Duke of Edinburgh will sit in a stadium in Nairobi and watch the flags changing over, and the British part of the story will peter out. I read the novel as being about what is left behind; in that sense it reminded me of How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, Saša Stanišić’s novel about Yugoslavia. A war of independence against a colonial power is I suppose a peculiar kind of civil war, and it tears apart the fabric of the country in a similar way.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Chaikin

    12. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo published: 1967, revised 1986 format: 247 page paperback acquired: 2010 from a now closed little bookstore in Brenham, TX read: Feb 7-18 time reading: 9 hr 20 min, 2.3 min/page rating: 4 My Litsy review: Not sure how to review this, although for some reason I like the sound of the description—"a book on post-colonial Kenya". For all there is about Kenya's Mau Mau Rebellion, it's the way he is able to capture the emotional state of the characters that really st 12. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo published: 1967, revised 1986 format: 247 page paperback acquired: 2010 from a now closed little bookstore in Brenham, TX read: Feb 7-18 time reading: 9 hr 20 min, 2.3 min/page rating: 4 My Litsy review: Not sure how to review this, although for some reason I like the sound of the description—"a book on post-colonial Kenya". For all there is about Kenya's Mau Mau Rebellion, it's the way he is able to capture the emotional state of the characters that really struck me—especially jealousy and disappointment. Even though there is a lot more to say about this than that above, I find it hard to capture what I want. This is a story, through a village, of the Mau Mau Rebellion, the cruel British prison camps where suspected rebels were sometimes tortured to death, reprisals against this village, and the various humiliating ways people found to get through it. And then it's viewed in hindsight, as the day of independence from the UK approaches. But, when I closed the book, my main impression wasn't this history, it was tied specifically to the handful of main characters and their own states. They were what I was left thinking about.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Marcy

    Ngugi is one of my favorite authors. This novel is a stunning portrayal of British colonialism in Kenya in the lead up to Independence. What is most powerful is the narration that focuses on several characters through flashbacks about their relation to the British and to the Mau Mau resistance fighters. I especially love the way Ngugi portrays how many of these characters internalize colonialism and shows the damaging consequences of this not only on a personal level, but also on a communal one. Ngugi is one of my favorite authors. This novel is a stunning portrayal of British colonialism in Kenya in the lead up to Independence. What is most powerful is the narration that focuses on several characters through flashbacks about their relation to the British and to the Mau Mau resistance fighters. I especially love the way Ngugi portrays how many of these characters internalize colonialism and shows the damaging consequences of this not only on a personal level, but also on a communal one. The novel is absolutely extraordinary.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Calzean

    An impressive novel that takes a bit of concentration to figure out the various characters and changes in the time of the event. The story of the years leading up to Kenya's independence is told through a set of characters who represent the oppressor, the freedom fighter, the unwitting hero, and those who were traitors. The author showed the impact of the fight for independence on all of these characters and also of the communities they lived in. Written in only three years after independence, t An impressive novel that takes a bit of concentration to figure out the various characters and changes in the time of the event. The story of the years leading up to Kenya's independence is told through a set of characters who represent the oppressor, the freedom fighter, the unwitting hero, and those who were traitors. The author showed the impact of the fight for independence on all of these characters and also of the communities they lived in. Written in only three years after independence, the author also told of the greed of the whites would be replaced by the greed of those who replaced them and while the book ended in a small piece of hope it also ended with many unanswered questions on the future.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Thais Serrette

    i found this book a little difficult to grasp and understand. The book continuously and unexpectedly went into flashback and it left me a bit confused, even though i do see this as one of the author's techniques and styles, I personally found it difficult to understand. I however have so much for Kenya and their struggle for independence and the trials and tribulations they went through, whether it be betrayal by their own people or by the British. It clearly depicted and painted a picture as to i found this book a little difficult to grasp and understand. The book continuously and unexpectedly went into flashback and it left me a bit confused, even though i do see this as one of the author's techniques and styles, I personally found it difficult to understand. I however have so much for Kenya and their struggle for independence and the trials and tribulations they went through, whether it be betrayal by their own people or by the British. It clearly depicted and painted a picture as to how the struggle for independence were for the Kenyans. I though that however there were too many characters and it got me mixed up and confused a couple of times. But i eventually got the concept of the book and began to understand the story line and got accustom to the author's style and technique. I found that the use of Biblical references was a really nice touch to the book, and emphasized on the religious faith of the Kenyans that they one day will have freedom. A challenging book, but nonetheless an inspiring and moving book. =]

  12. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    Astonishingly good. I am no expert on African literature--or any literature for that matter--and bought this as a blind buy at my local, pure and simple. In fact, I probably bought it on the basis of his name, shallow, yes, but it's served me well in the past: buy everything you can't pronounce. Ngugi's novel is a story of the last few days before Kenya became independent. The numerous characters have colliding and intersecting storylines that weave in and out of the themes of desperation, betray Astonishingly good. I am no expert on African literature--or any literature for that matter--and bought this as a blind buy at my local, pure and simple. In fact, I probably bought it on the basis of his name, shallow, yes, but it's served me well in the past: buy everything you can't pronounce. Ngugi's novel is a story of the last few days before Kenya became independent. The numerous characters have colliding and intersecting storylines that weave in and out of the themes of desperation, betrayal, dissatisfaction and, ultimately, failure. Stupid white colonials and black freedom-fighters alike take pause to sit back and wonder, what the hell did we just do? Very bleak and dark. The structure is what won me over. I'm not a huge fan of nested stories--narratives breaking off into plot after plot--but Ngugi does this with such grace and darkness that you don't even really notice until 40 pages later when it returns to the original conversation. Time is smeared in this novel, paean to a period when much was uncertain, except for one thing: most people are terrible.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I used to assign this book to high school students. The Mau Mau rebellion and the emergency are exciting to history students, I think. When you think of all the similar stories of a colonial policy of concentration camps during a rebellion, the US in Vietnam and the Philippines, the Germans in South West Africa, the French in Algeria, the British in Malaysia and so on, this book is as relevant as anything to world history. Also it might be the single best piece of art about those experiences (po I used to assign this book to high school students. The Mau Mau rebellion and the emergency are exciting to history students, I think. When you think of all the similar stories of a colonial policy of concentration camps during a rebellion, the US in Vietnam and the Philippines, the Germans in South West Africa, the French in Algeria, the British in Malaysia and so on, this book is as relevant as anything to world history. Also it might be the single best piece of art about those experiences (possibly Battle of Algiers rates along with it). The other great thing is that it takes place after the uprising once the British are leaving, when the telling of the story and the claim to hero status are as important as the truth of what happened. This makes it doubly interesting to students of history, as it explores the foundation myths of a nation. This is one of my favorite books. In general if you ever go to Kenya or East Africa at all, please read it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    2/5stars I'm sure this is great but I legit didn't understand a single thing in this book and could barely follow class discussion even though I'd read every word of this since I need to write an essay.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    A story of Kenyan independence and the toll the preceding struggle took on people. Well, this is embarrassing--I don't know what to rate this. Based on the first couple pages I'd pegged it as a slog, and not expecting to enjoy it but feeling I should read it anyway for my world fiction challenge, read nearly half the book in a crowded place with divided attention. Turns out this is a complex story with a lot of names (many of them similar), a lot of jumping back and forth between past and present A story of Kenyan independence and the toll the preceding struggle took on people. Well, this is embarrassing--I don't know what to rate this. Based on the first couple pages I'd pegged it as a slog, and not expecting to enjoy it but feeling I should read it anyway for my world fiction challenge, read nearly half the book in a crowded place with divided attention. Turns out this is a complex story with a lot of names (many of them similar), a lot of jumping back and forth between past and present, a lot of connections between the characters that come clear only as the story goes on. In other words, a story that requires more attention than I gave it. The second half was quite good, though not so much that I wanted to read the first half all over again. (That decision may also have been influenced by the Smurfette Principle.... I am so over books that among several main characters have only one female, and she there because she's related to or a love interest of the guys, none of whom are related to each other.) The backstory and hidden connections unfold nicely, and for a book written right after independence the book foreshadows later problems with corruption and failed government promises surprisingly well. If you decide to read this I'd advise finding an edition other than Heinemann's, which is ridiculously typo-ridden. The "day of reckoned" is my favorite. I know foreign literature doesn't make a lot of money, but seriously, if you're going to publish something can't you handle it with at least minimum competence?

  16. 5 out of 5

    Neil

    This is an absolutely brilliant piece of literature describing life in a Kenyan village in the aftermath of the war with Britain in the 1960s, where each villager has their own secret about their actions during the violence, slowly tearing everyone apart. Despite the grim premise, I really enjoyed reading this and got a insight into the life of people in a very different world. Will make you want to go to Kenya..

  17. 4 out of 5

    Amari

    A masterpiece. The characters are sharply drawn and the plot is indisputably powerful. I am very moved by the depth of characterization (helped along by the seamless omniscient point of view; this gently reminds readers of the inner struggles, innate morality, and complexity of even the characters (and/or actions) we are initially eager to hate. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying something that I don't understand fully, but I would say that the thrust of Ngugi's argument is that the political situation A masterpiece. The characters are sharply drawn and the plot is indisputably powerful. I am very moved by the depth of characterization (helped along by the seamless omniscient point of view; this gently reminds readers of the inner struggles, innate morality, and complexity of even the characters (and/or actions) we are initially eager to hate. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying something that I don't understand fully, but I would say that the thrust of Ngugi's argument is that the political situation during the Kenyan rebellion against the UK destroyed all individuals involved, to greater or lesser extent, and that though some of the choices people made may seem reprehensible, they all had their root in some combination of the hope, selfishness, love, fear, and courage that we all harbor just beneath the surface. I've discovered that I'm strongly drawn to literature examining important historical moments from the point of view of fictional characters, and I'm a strong believer that in impossibly inhumane situations like this one, almost any personal choice or action is in fact a forced one, a reaction -- and, as such, can be forgiven or pardoned on some level if not condoned. Today, in fact, I came across a question that Tzvetan Todorov asks in a book of his: is it true that "all traces of moral life evaporate as men become beasts locked in a merciless struggle for survival"? Though Ngugi presents us with some confusing moments, every page of the book is absorbing and dramatic, full of a certain tension -- rather surprisingly -- a la Camus. Two hints that do not bear directly on the work itself: 1. Like another reviewer on Goodreads, I found a brief list of characters (along with the page of first mention) to be very helpful in the first 100 pages or so. Many of the minor characters mentioned early on assume some unanticipated significance later. 2. I bought my copy of this book used and would highly recommend avoiding the old Heinemann "African Writers Series" edition. I am glad to see that Penguin has published this book (2010) and hope that it's not riddled with the same meaning-altering typos that the Heinemann is; this work deserves a well-edited publication. I am also continually puzzled by the drawing of the young white man on the cover. I can't imagine whose representation he could be, and it's a bit disturbing to keep seeing him when I open the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Pep Bonet

    I read recently a story about the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Basically it went like this: the Jury wanted to grant the Prize to Ngugi wa Thiong'o (in actual fact the joke was about a Japanese author) and they couldn't write the name correctly, therefore decided that Dylan was easier to remember and write. This is just a joke, but it hides a truth: Ngugi is a great author. He delivers a political novel, highly committed, about Uhuru, Freedom, in December 1963, and the fight that brought it. I read recently a story about the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Basically it went like this: the Jury wanted to grant the Prize to Ngugi wa Thiong'o (in actual fact the joke was about a Japanese author) and they couldn't write the name correctly, therefore decided that Dylan was easier to remember and write. This is just a joke, but it hides a truth: Ngugi is a great author. He delivers a political novel, highly committed, about Uhuru, Freedom, in December 1963, and the fight that brought it. He summarises action in the runup for the Uhuru day in a remote village in Gikuyu territory (he being a Gikuyu himself). The book is full of flashbacks allowing the reader to discover a number of treacheries, weaknesses and vicious violence. The result is a sad picture of Kenya told by a person convinced that Kenya needed to get rid of the whiteman and be ruled by black Africans. The book shows the foundations upon which modern Kenya is built. But it is full of hope. Indeed, women, starting with a central character named Mumbi, represent wisdom, sensibility, all the positive things you might be looking for. All in all, a wonderful book, written in a delicious and very elaborate English. Indeed, it predates his writing in Gikuyu, although, at the end of the day, the books he's written in his native language have been translated into English by himself!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Maroua Bentoucha

    All along I avoided reading writers who use the stream of unconsciousness , but this one couldn't but finish it.. and I seriously have no idea how I have .. I really hated the book and loved it at the same time .. it is a wide door , a huge one to the African Lit , and Civ .. the mere description of their lives , made me want to visit Kenya. Wa thiong'o is such a great writer , and I loved his philosophy , I loved how he made me as an Algerian reader , believe in the black power over the Whitman All along I avoided reading writers who use the stream of unconsciousness , but this one couldn't but finish it.. and I seriously have no idea how I have .. I really hated the book and loved it at the same time .. it is a wide door , a huge one to the African Lit , and Civ .. the mere description of their lives , made me want to visit Kenya. Wa thiong'o is such a great writer , and I loved his philosophy , I loved how he made me as an Algerian reader , believe in the black power over the Whitman . So basically this book talk of the independent day , and how so many flashbacks to arrive to the Uhuru ( freedom ) day . Betrayal , love , determinism , friendship , and so many other subject has been tackled by James Wa thiong'o. I struggled Lot with names of people , and places .like the struggle was real. Still can't believe I finished it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I think my rating is more of a 4.5! This really surprised me! I was slightly confused at the beginning of the novel, but I grew so invested in these characters and their stories. Such a powerful, political and complex historical novel. It jumps from the present (1963 - Independence day in Kenya) to the characters' pasts and we see how their lives are interwoven and connected. The characters are complex and feel real.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Tinea

    Don't have time yet to write this up, and besides, I'm currently stewing in that post-getting-wolloped thoughtfulness of a complex book I haven't fully dissected. I might start over and review after my second round on this one. We're talking treason, forgiveness, courage/weakness, and about ten other really deep themes he rips open and lets fall all over the place. Damn, Ngugi, packin it in.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Holly McKie

    I have absolutely NO CLUE what really happened during most of this because it is not a book to take ages reading. I'm definitely going to have to re-read it to fully appreciate it because I THINK it's good? Am I allowed to say that?

  23. 4 out of 5

    Amara

    Obama recommends this. How can I pass that up?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Val

    This is much more of an indictment of colonialism than Paradise, which is understandable in the context. The route to independence for Kenya was a violent and divisive one, while Tanzania had a mostly peaceful transition. The book is set post-independence, but concerns memories of actions during the 'unrest'. All the characters did things, or failed to do something they could have done, which they examine in the run-up to the independence celebrations. Very few of these actions and the motives fo This is much more of an indictment of colonialism than Paradise, which is understandable in the context. The route to independence for Kenya was a violent and divisive one, while Tanzania had a mostly peaceful transition. The book is set post-independence, but concerns memories of actions during the 'unrest'. All the characters did things, or failed to do something they could have done, which they examine in the run-up to the independence celebrations. Very few of these actions and the motives for them are clear cut, although not all the characters are capable of the level of self analysis required to realise that. This makes for a deep and psychological book, as we bring our own judgements and pre-conceptions to the story and examine those as well. It is very well done. One example to illustrate is that of Thompson, who thinks that '...the growth of the British Empire was the development of a great moral idea: it means, it must surely lead to the creation of one British nation, embracing peoples of all colours and creeds, based on the just proposition that all men were created equal', but only if they think like him and embrace British heritage and tradition. Is he a hypocrite or is he naive? His experience is a minor part of the book, the important characters are the villagers, with all their different thoughts and experiences. They were all changed by the war for independence in different ways. The war is won, but at the cost of lives and dreams lost. Gikonyo and Mumbi have a pure and true love, which does not survive Gikonyo being detained. Karanja seems to profit from the situation. He may be simply a pragmatist, a collaborator, or an informer. Some people are prepared to believe the worst: that men are either heroes of the resistance or traitors to it, black or white with no shades of grey. Kihaka is an idealist who talks of Jesus Christ and the need for sacrifice, who idolises Ghandi with his struggle for independence though passive resistance. He carries his Bible everywhere, with passages underlined. But Kihaka becomes a killer. Then a martyr and a hero. Mugo just wants to be left alone. Others see him as confidant, role model, hero. His actions and how he sees himself are at the core of the book. A theme of the book is the 'need' for heroes of the struggle to epitomise the new nation. Should this need be more important than an individual or than the truth? Who truly is a hero? There are costs to the peace as well. Truth is one of them. There are plenty of different opinions within nationalism as well. Is it necessary to reject everything from the colonial past, or can some of it be useful? Amidst all the euphoria of independence celebrations are a few hints of disillusionment. Is everything in the new independent Kenya better than it was before? Do you truly have self-government if the MP sits in the capital taking bribes and enriching himself, while never paying any attention to his constituency? The author himself shows a dilemma in his writing. He now writes in Gikuyu and translates into English, but this book is written in a very European style. It is unlikely that a truly 'African' style would reach out to a European readership in the same way.

  25. 5 out of 5

    orion_scattered

    Initially confusing, this book slowly sucks you in as you realize how all the characters relate to each other and the effects that their actions in the past have had on their present. Rather than focusing on the actual revolution for independence, it casts a magnifying glass over one town of many, providing ample detail on a handful of the town's inhabitants. It's not what I expected. Through the first half of the book I was confused for a two main reasons. First, I couldn't keep the characters s Initially confusing, this book slowly sucks you in as you realize how all the characters relate to each other and the effects that their actions in the past have had on their present. Rather than focusing on the actual revolution for independence, it casts a magnifying glass over one town of many, providing ample detail on a handful of the town's inhabitants. It's not what I expected. Through the first half of the book I was confused for a two main reasons. First, I couldn't keep the characters straight - there are a lot of similar names and all of them sound unfamiliar to me, plus the book, written in 3rd person omniscient, transitions between characters silently (unlike, say, Game of Thrones which sticks to one POV character per chapter) so that often times I had read an entire page before realizing it had switched to a different character. And second, I couldn't understand how the characters and events related to each other and where the narrative was going. Just like how it silently transitions between characters, it does so with time. It was hard to tell when the events described were taking place. And it felt directionless because I thought that the "point" of the book was somehow exclusively about Mugo's secret, and everything else that was happening felt irrelevant and thus uninteresting. But finally, about 100 pages to the end, it clicked. It all made sense. I got used to the characters, the narrative style and everything, and I *got* what the book was about. Which made it so much more interesting - I breezed through the final 60 or so pages in bed, unable to put the book down until I had finished. Because it turned out that the book wasn't about a fight for independence for a country; and Mugo wasn't special at all, rather it's about each character's fight for their identity within a tumultuously changing society. That's why the focus is never on revolutionary events themselves, but rather the character's unique roles within those events and how the characters felt about them and reacted to them. In that light, the earlier events of the book which had felt irrelevant now had a strong resonance. And as the book closes the story on each of its characters, you feel your heart hurt because of the way things ended up for some of them, compared to how they could have been in a better world. But you're also hopeful for the future of some characters, hopeful that in time old wounds will heal, old mistakes be forgiven, and new lives be made together. This book isn't for someone who wants a gripping story of how Kenya won its independence. I would recommend this book to people who enjoy stories with complex characters, and are willing and excited about the prospect of a nut that's hard to crack. Because within the shell of this book - a shell which has "earned" the book many low-star reviews on this site - is a deeply satisfying, emotionally heavy story.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    I went into this novel comparing it to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which in spite of its many rave reviews I found to be relatively underwhelming. In my opinion, A Grain of Wheat was much better, but also very different. The structure and style of A Grain of Wheat is certainly more complex and underscores Ngũgĩ's experience and education with western literature. Additionally, he includes a white colonial perspective on Kenya's independence, and while this view isn't as clearly developed as I went into this novel comparing it to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which in spite of its many rave reviews I found to be relatively underwhelming. In my opinion, A Grain of Wheat was much better, but also very different. The structure and style of A Grain of Wheat is certainly more complex and underscores Ngũgĩ's experience and education with western literature. Additionally, he includes a white colonial perspective on Kenya's independence, and while this view isn't as clearly developed as the other perspectives, it is startling authentic and insightful. It took me a while to really get into this book, but once I did I quite enjoyed it. In the beginning, the unfamiliar terms and names created some difficulty, and the novel's non-linear timeline made it hard to keep the characters straight. In each section of the novel, the perspective changes to a different person, and (as in reality) it was sometimes difficult to reconcile another character's view of the person with his own. (To alleviate this, I would suggest keeping a basic list of characters as a helpful reference.) I often found myself flipping back to earlier chapters to confirm that someone who appeared in more detail later in the book had in fact made a brief appearance in an earlier scene. Ngũgĩ's book is very well-written and provides a balanced, multi-faceted look at the time leading up to Kenya's independence. I've often seen him tapped as a favorite for the Nobel Literature prize, and given both his writing technique and illustration of the historical and political context, I think the distinction is quite deserved.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anne-Marie

    This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. If I had more time, I could write pages and pages of stuff about it and what I liked, what it made me think about, etc.... but I don't have time, so suffice it to say that this book takes a fascinating look at the aftermath of the fight for independence in Kenya. Each character is treated with such compassion, and the book takes no moral stance, simply presenting events from everyone's point of view and leaving the reader to judge (or not This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. If I had more time, I could write pages and pages of stuff about it and what I liked, what it made me think about, etc.... but I don't have time, so suffice it to say that this book takes a fascinating look at the aftermath of the fight for independence in Kenya. Each character is treated with such compassion, and the book takes no moral stance, simply presenting events from everyone's point of view and leaving the reader to judge (or not). A major point of the book seems to be the impossibility of living up to the heroic ideal. Societies need heroes, but heroes are by definition super-human. No one is actually a hero. I nearly cried for Mugo. He was by far my favorite character in the book. He's one of those characters who really sticks with you; I can't quite imagine that he's just a fictional person because he seems so achingly real. Also: my favorite quote is this - "Her dark eyes had a dreamy look that longed for something the village could not give. She lay in the sun and ardently yearned for a life in which love and heroism, suffering, and martyrdom were possible. She was young. She had fed on stories in which Gikuyu women braved the terrors of the forest to save people, of beautiful girls given to the gods as sacrifice before the rains. In the Old Testament she often saw herself as Esther: so she revealed in that moment when Esther finally answers King Asahuerus' question and dramatically points at Haman, saying: The adversary and enemy is the wicked Haman."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Roshan Singh

    This book is painful to read. A deep throbbing pain that grips you and squeezes out all hope and happiness out of your being. I had not expected such sadness rooted in the pages. When I picked up this book, the only background I had was that it's set against the backdrop of mau-mau revolution. I expected it to be a political fiction talking about the struggles of an African country gaining independence. I wasn't entirely wrong. The basic premise is same but what made it leave such a deep impress This book is painful to read. A deep throbbing pain that grips you and squeezes out all hope and happiness out of your being. I had not expected such sadness rooted in the pages. When I picked up this book, the only background I had was that it's set against the backdrop of mau-mau revolution. I expected it to be a political fiction talking about the struggles of an African country gaining independence. I wasn't entirely wrong. The basic premise is same but what made it leave such a deep impression on me was the story each character had to tell. Ngūgī Wa Thiong'o has sketched such strong characters that I was totally engrossed and sucked into their lives. Having recently finished Chinua Achebe's "Things fall apart", I was really looking forward to reading Thiong'o. What stands out in this book is, according to me, the beautiful depiction of individual lives, which get tangled into the larger narrative and get sidelined. On the surface, the book is the story of a small village and the role some of the members had to play in 'Uhuru' (freedom) but what made me love the book is that the spotlight was on the individual lives of each of the characters. The amount of suffering each one of them has to bear is too much. The fact that individual stories usually have no place in the national narrative makes it all the more painful. The people who suffer the most are the ones who's wounds are not even addressed. And then the question of the future. All of it for what?

  29. 5 out of 5

    Wangui

    It took me a while to digest this book after I finished reading it because like many others have mentioned it contains many interwoven stories and the novel uses a lot of flashback. Also, I was just not quite sure what the grain of wheat, whose produce could not be predicted at the time of planting, was exactly. I finally decided that it was the State of the Emergency. With that the novel portrays the different effects that the State of Emergency in Kenya from 1952-1959, had on different people It took me a while to digest this book after I finished reading it because like many others have mentioned it contains many interwoven stories and the novel uses a lot of flashback. Also, I was just not quite sure what the grain of wheat, whose produce could not be predicted at the time of planting, was exactly. I finally decided that it was the State of the Emergency. With that the novel portrays the different effects that the State of Emergency in Kenya from 1952-1959, had on different people in the area most affected by fighting, Central Kenya using one small village as the window to the narrative. This is the most psychologically intensive book by Ngũgĩ I am yet to read(I'm reading chronologically), because it questions the inner motives of actions that are often read as simple rights and wrongs - resistance and collaboration respectively- and shows that there was more at work in this volatile time- love, selfishness, loneliness, desires, anger. In the end it forces you to consider what the independence definition of a hero ought to be, and that people's decisions were not simply guided by the question of whether to collaborate or to resist (during the War of Independence) at all times. Interestingly, I think the novel also foreshadows the troubles that were to plague the new nation, such as corruption by politicians.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Mist

    This book was ok. It was on Kenyan Independence and the Five days leading up to Independence. In a small village called Thabai, these five days are heartbreaking and destructive. This book was very confusing for three reasons 1) It had a lot of characters with names I'm not used to. I'm used to names like Sally and Bob but these were names like Mugo and Mumbi. This made it difficult to identify characters with actions.2) The time was messed up. I was not sure when we were. This is a book that is s This book was ok. It was on Kenyan Independence and the Five days leading up to Independence. In a small village called Thabai, these five days are heartbreaking and destructive. This book was very confusing for three reasons 1) It had a lot of characters with names I'm not used to. I'm used to names like Sally and Bob but these were names like Mugo and Mumbi. This made it difficult to identify characters with actions.2) The time was messed up. I was not sure when we were. This is a book that is supposed to be about five days but tries to cover the whole suffering of a nation. It kept jumping around moving from one end to another. In a sentence, a man could be born, achieve greatness and die, which just made it hard to follow. 3)There were a lot of characters and it followed all of them. A long section would be dedicated to a certain character and their past and then you would jump to the present and follow a different character. It does a great job of explaining the injustice and suffering that people faced during the struggle for freedom and that your closest friend might be the one to stab you in the back. The plot is filled with minor and major plot twists and subplots. Betrayal is a heavy theme in the struggle for independence and oppression also has clear markings in the story.

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