This is a monumental, epic book that encompasses most of Africa's post-colonial history, and one which I feel hopelessly unqualified to review. It is an outrageous mixture of fantasy, farce and social commentary which draws on history, religion and local mythology. A unique and powerful book, and one I expect to remember long after reading it.
In Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, Ngugi wa Thiong'o complained that African neo-colonial leaders behave so ridiculously that it's hard to satirise them (similarly, my Dad recently quoted to me from an interview about Bremner Bird & Fortune 'it's getting easier to make fun of politicians. I remember reading in Decolonising the Mind about how his books were read by the Kenyan people he wanted to reach once he started writing in Gikuyu. Of course, Ngugi wa Thiongo has translated his own book (affirming his expression of hope in Decolonising the Mind that the art of translation would help him continue dialogue with people everywhere), so its perfectly expressive, but the translated-ness has its own interesting consequences for how the books humour works. More than that, it provokes me to mindfulness of the Kenyan village & the knowledge that he wrote this book for the people there first, and for me last. I particularly love this quote about an organized political process made by a group of women: Some foreign diplomats laughed out loud, thinking that this was a humorous native dance, but when they saw that state officials and ministers were not laughing, they restrained themselves and assumed that, pornographic as the act might have seemed, it was actually a solemn native dance.
To understand African literature, when you're coming from a Western point of view, it is important to keep the social and political context of the stories at hand in mind. Personally, I was not very knowledgeable when it came to Kenya as a country and its government and people before jumping into this book. It is important to note that this book joins other Kenyan tales as told by local people. It is a piece of activism that calls out to the people in Africa to rise up and demand better governing. Ngg breaks with that tradition by giving everyone a voice in his story. The story is set in the imaginary Free Republic of Aburria, autocratically governed by one man, known only as the Ruler; a character which is most likely modelled after modelled after Daniel arap Moi, former Kenyan politician who served as the second President of Kenya from 1978 to 2002. The Ruler is destroying the country due to his complete disregard of the people he governs. Much of the story preoccupies itself with the Ruler and his ministers trying to get that money, whilst also trying to stay on top with all of the petty and deceitful in-fighting going on within the government. (The new leaders, just because their skin color had changed, their outlook on how to govern had not.) Ngg shows the problem (the mess, really) that African governments have put their people in, by only having their own interest in mind. Throughout the narrative, however, it becomes clear that the Ruler isn't as much in control as he wants to be: he doesn't control he Voice of the People, the Global Bank and Western governments, his own health .. (Go Rachael!) Ngg also shows that the masses of the people are the ones who have to suffer and pay the price for their inept government. Ngg also gives an answer to how African countries got into the mess that there in. Through the characters of Kamt and Nyawra, who both pose as the Wizard of the Crow, the self-proclaimed postcolonial witch doctor, Ngg transports the message that is closest to his heart: Black people should unite their forces and their values, and go back to the old ways, before colonialism corrupted the country. Ngg is well aware that not everything was nice and shiny back then, and certain values should be replaced by more progressive ones (especially when it comes to the position of women in society); but Africa will gain nothing by letting the West rob them of their resources, while being preoccupied with petty tribal fights and self-destruction from within. I especially liked that his story was so focused on giving everyone a voice and improving the life of all the people. A friend or a husband.) and his story features many strong female characters; not just women who are politically active like Nyawra, but also wives and daughters, who oppose the patriarchal structures of their homes. And even though Nyawra and Kamt no longer pose as the Wizard of the Crow, they continue to be politically active within the Movement of the Voice of the People: Anything pointing to people being able to unite across race and ethnic lines is suppressed so that people may not realize the sources of their strength and power. Even though Ngg gives the solution to the problems he sees with current African governments, their implementation is easier written down than actually carried out. If Ngg wants African countries to go back to the pre-colonial era, the problem of petty in-fights between tribes still remains.
Admittedly, I'm a fan of Wa Thiong'o's; I found his memoir, Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir, singular and stunning.
So of course you offer me an 800 page brick of a book from The Continent, sure, I'm going to go after it. given how RealPolitik concludes this novel however it's not all just a question of over the top Evil, but also of banal NeoEvil politics At any rate, to make a distinction, I find in my reading of BIG books there's a difference between the FAT and the simply long/KittenSquisher/Chunkster. Simply long/etc of course is just a lot of pages, and if the book is good, a lot of storystorystory. Reviewed :: "Decolonise the mind :: Maya Jaggi applauds a vivid satire on an African kleptocracy from Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Wizard of the Crow" https://www.theguardian.com/books/200... "....the result is a surprisingly breezy read that's enormously entertaining and almost incidentally provides a broad picture of the African condition in the early 21st century." http://www.complete-review.com/review...
A strongly feminist book with a powerful range of female characters and a crunching indictment of culturally mandated abuse of women, which models a terrific, mutually respectful relationship at the centre while allowing the MCs to be flawed.
The chambers of the State house-the walls and ceilings- were made from the skeletons of the students, teachers, workers, and small farmers he(the Ruler) had killed in all the regions of the country, for it was well known that he came into power with flaming swords, the bodies of his victims falling down to his left and right like banana trunks. One historian, who dared to publish a book called People Make History, Then Ruler Makes It His Story was jailed for ten years without trial, together with hundreds of political prisoners, and a few authors and journalists. Once the project was completed, no historian would ever again talk about any other wonders in the world, for the fame of this Modern House of Babel would dwarf the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Egyptian pyramids, the Astecan Tenochtitlan, or the Great Wall of China. According to Minister Machokali, nothing would ever come close to this building such as had never seen before in human history, except once by the children of Israel, and even they had failed miserably to complete the House of Babel. Even the old men wanted to praise the Ruler, as one old senior citizen tried when it was his turn at the microphone.(view spoiler) ...it was clear that he had difficulty in pronouncing Swahili words for the Ruler, Mtukufu Rais, calling out instead, Mtukutu Rahisi. Horrified at the Ruler's being called a Cheap Excellency, one of the policeman quickly whispered in the old man's ear that the phrase was Mtukufu Rais or Rais Mtukufu, which confused him even more. At the mention of "His Holy Arsehole," the multitude broke out in hilarious laughter, which made the old man forget what he wanted to say, and he stuck religiously to the phrase Rahisi Mkundu, which made Machokali quickly signal that he be removed from the microphone. The old man did not understand why he was not being allowed to speak, and, as he was led back into the crowd, he let out a stream of Rahisi Mkundu, Mtukutu Takatifu Mtukutu, any combination of cheap and holy arsehole he thought might work, gesturing toward the Ruler as if begging for his divine intervention.
The Ruler falls ill on the trip and his Minister of Foreign Affairs, Machokali, is forced to call the Wizard of the Crow to fly from to Aburiria New York to affect a cure. Machokali is worried that if the news ever leaked out that the Ruler was seeking the help of a Witch Doctor to cure his ills this would discredit the Ruler and the country of Aburiria in the eyes of the world. Neither the Ruler nor Machokali nor the Wizard of the Crow need have had any embarrassment at using magic, sorcery, prayer or pretty much any supernatural powers at the highest levels of the Aburirian government as the GOP has been doing the same at the highest levels of the American government for decades.
I have a thing for books that create their own mythologies, and Wizard of the Crow has risen to the top of that list.
Really.) Hes ruled the country with an iron fist almost since the day the English left, hes both the ruler and the lord of everyone, and nobodys going to tell him that there are limits to his power. No, hes going to build a modern Tower of Babel and march all the way to the stars to show the world that Africa can do things the West cant even imagine. Which is one of the few things he can be excused for, since the wizard hasnt taken himself into account either; hes just an out-of-work academic who, while running from the police together with a woman from the resistance, makes up a story based on an old folk tale to make himself scarier than he really is. Its got the same wildly disrespectful and bawdy sense of humour, coupled with a pissed-off, clear-sighted social critique that seems to want to kick over the whole damn tower of power hunger, nepotism, sexism, racism and faceless structures, all set to notes of both ancient myths and modern thinking that sometimes collides wildly and sometimes fuses into something completely new. On a lighter note, theres a misquote of Descartes that eventually turns into a linguistic virus that almost overthrows the government by itself.) And the way out turns out to be through storytelling; the legend of the peoples wizard, who can hold up a mirror and change the world, causing those in power to panic and become ever more paranoid. The world keeps creating new legends, and they dont necessarily need to be true to be strong enough to tear down towers.
After imprisonment in 1978, Ngg abandoned using English as the primary language of his work in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue. The transition from colonialism to postcoloniality and the crisis of modernity has been a central issues in a great deal of Ngg's writings. Ngg's family belonged to the Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Gikuyu. After receiving a B.A. in English at Makerere University College in Kampala (Uganda) in 1963, Ngg worked briefly as a journalist in Nairobi. As a novelist Ngg made his debut with WEEP NOT, CHILD (1964), which he started to write while he was at school in England. Ngg refers in the title to the biblical theme of self-sacrifice, a part of the new birth: "unless a grain of wheat die." The allegorical story of one man's mistaken heroism and a search for the betrayer of a Mau Mau leader is set in a village, which has been destroyed in the war.