- Meredith, Martin — The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence (736 pages)
- Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o — Wizard of the Crow (766 pages)
Page count: 1502.
I like to read material that's appropriate to my travels or to the season, and so, when I decided to travel to Kenya, I was pleased to discover that one of the books on my shelf was by a Kenyan author.
And as I sat at breakfast one day at the Mount Kenya Safari Club Resort, one of the waiters noticed my book and struck up conversation. He told me that Ngũgĩ had grown up only a few kilometres from there. He also told me that he had read Wizard of the Crow in the original Gĩkũyũ (the English translation is also by Ngũgĩ) and that I was in for quite a treat.
I wondered to myself how much of that was an expression of pride in the local literary hero, but he was right: I was in for a treat!
(And it turns out that Ngũgĩ is more than merely a local literary hero. He is widely considered, along with Chinua Achebe, one of the two pillars of African literature. I hadn't known that but now can see why.)
Wizard of the Crow is a satire of all aspects of post-colonial Africa. Based in the fictional Free Republic of Aburĩria, Ngũgĩ's story encompasses the full range of African society, from The Ruler, an amalgam of various African dictators, and other elite, spanning all classes to the poorest and most destitute of the poor. With a keen, unflinching eye, he examines the lust for power, the greed, the corruption, the abject poverty, the different political and religious beliefs and superstitions, and so much more, all aspects of modern Africa. Yet all the while Ngũgĩ keeps the mood light and tells an entertaining story, filled with laugh-out-loud moments, about two very ordinary people who, purely by chance, conjure up the figure of the Wizard of the Crow and go on to have a profound impact on all aspects of Aburĩrian life. It's hard to resist making comparisons to Wibberley and Heller, but I believe those comparisons would sell Ngũgĩ short, reflecting only facets of what is contained in Wizard of the Crow.
Despite its length, and though I feel my enjoyment was enriched by having learned a little about the circumstances in post-colonial Africa, Wizard of the Crow is a very accessible book. Time flew by as I read it, and I was always reluctant to put it down. Indeed, when I reached the end, I was both sad at losing a constant companion and satisfied with having experienced such a remarkable book.