The second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria suffers from a mysterious illness, the source of which has caused much speculation among citizens. Whatever the cause, The Ruler gets fatter and smells horribly of decay. In celebration of his birthday, The Ruler has decided that his citizens will build him a modern-day Tower of Babel called the ‘Marching to Heaven’ or ‘Heavenscrape’ project that he plans to have funded by the Global Bank. Rising to challenge The Ruler are two heroes; Kamiti, an educated Aburirian man, and Nyawiri, a feminist activist. Together they become the witch doctor, the Wizard of the Crow, believed to be causing The Ruler’s illness and destabilizing his rule.
Wizard of the Crow (Murogi wa Kagogo) the newest novel from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is a massive work. Ngũgĩ’s Wizard of the Crow reads like an extended performance piece, epic in both its political themes and length (768 pages). As John Updike states in his review in The New Yorker: “When the Wizard, with his moral scruples and self-doubts, is not onstage, the novel becomes puppetry, a Punch-and-Judy show whose grotesque politicos keep whacking one another.”
Wizard of the Crow at its core is an African novel, written in a language of oral traditions, evident in both its construction and linguistic style. While it may feel foreign to Western readers, greater understanding of the text can be gained by reading the text out loud. Readers should remember that the narrative traditions from which Ngũgĩ draws are heavy on performance. The hyperbole and satire of his caricature leads to a fantastic and didactic tale highlighting the plight of Africa. While understanding of the novel may be aided through study of African history, it is not essential.
Ngũgĩ focuses a great deal on power and draws many parallels between women’s plight in traditional culture and the political situation in his homeland. By writing in his native Gĩkũyũ, Ngũgĩ can spread his message to a larger audience. As he states in the novel: “Awareness of being wronged is the first step in political self-education.”
Read the review at Armchair Interviews.
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: August 2007
tags: books book reviews Ngugi wa Thiong'o Literature in Translation fiction