Bite-size Review: Devil on the Cross | Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o


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Devil on the Cross | Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

This novel is extraordinarily unique for various reasons, the first being how it actually came into existence. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wrote it in his mother tongue Gîkũyũ, on toilet paper during his imprisonment in 1977-78, (he later translated it into the English). Another reason is the way in which African oral tradition is entwined within the text reflecting its initial Gîkũyũ origins but also adding to its creativity and style. Furthermore and perhaps the most controversial aspect of this novel is the depth of its satirical criticism of the neo-colonial stage of imperialism, and the abundance of allegorical facets. Capitalism and greed become personified as characters who proudly claim that ‘Business is my temple, and money is my god’. It is through these different characters that endemic corruption is depicted concurrently at governmental and societal levels. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o casts a vehemently sceptical eye over what ‘uhuru’ in Kenya actually means. He references the Mau Mau rebellion and questions what the struggle for ‘freedom’ was for, if Kenyans in government merely mimic their imperial predecessors by ruthlessly exploiting the working masses. Poignant issues are also raised about women’s contribution to Kenya’s liberation struggle, and how their deeds have not been adequately recognised in the ‘post-colonial’ state. The trajectory of Ngũgĩ’s female protagonist, Warîînga, illustrates that hope is not lost but there is still more to do if both physical and ideological freedom are to be achieved for African women as well as men.

(Recommend Heinemann African Writers Series 1987 edition)


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