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" A grain of wheat"

First published as part of the influential Heinemann African Writers Series

15-01-2019 by Freddie del Curatolo

Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is surely the greatest Kenyan writer of all time.
He has been included several times in the five nominations for the Nobel Prize for Literature and has published a series of novels that have investigated the epochal, difficult and bloody passage of Kenya from English colonialism to Independence.
"A grain of wheat", published in 1967, is its symbol, because it takes on the characters of a true popular novel, in which the days of the official announcement of the liberation of Jomo Kenyatta and the proclamation of Uhuru are lived by the peasant civilization of a small village between Nairobi and Nakuru among memories, family vicissitudes, wounds of imprisonment, dead heroes to bury and traitors to expose.
In the village of Thabai the presence of British officers has always been rather oppressive. During the Mau Mau uprisings following the imprisonment of Kenyatta and his followers, young Khitika kills District Officer Robson in an ambush and is celebrated as a hero. 
The other figure of reference for Thabai is the shady and taciturn Mugo, who suffered in the Queen's concentration camps for saving a pregnant woman from the abuse of the colonial guards.
Around these two figures alternate love stories, the controversial role of women in Kikuyu society, the cowardice of those who have to choose sides and the expectations of an entire people.
Ngugi constructs a plot that leads the reader to a metaphorical ending (often the heroes created by the people have in themselves the weaknesses of every single man, exactly as it could happen to a democratic country that will be born from the ashes of a dictatorship) and a story that paints the rural reality in the heart of Kenya, in painfully alive years, where characters and feelings move that recall the best of South American literature and the masters of our immediate post-war period.  


 

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