In the preface to this novel, Ngugi informs us that Matigari was written in 1983, while he was living in exile in London. It was published in the Gikuyu language in 1986, and translated into English the following year. He also tells us that copies of this book were removed from bookshops by the Kenyan police that year, due to the controversy that its release caused there.
Matigari ma Njiruungi, which means 'the patriots who survived the bullets' in the Gikuyu language, is an old man in an unnamed postcolonial African country who, after years of struggle, has finally killed his lifelong tormentor and oppressor Settler Williams and his assistant John Boy. He leaves the forest which had been his home for many years, to return to his home village. He intends to gather up his family and people that he left behind during the struggle for independence, in order to move into the spacious home that he built, which was stolen from him by Settler Williams.
Upon his arrival to the village, he finds a shocking amount of poverty and corruption: orphaned children live in abandoned cars, and obtain scraps of food and clothing from a dump; workers toil in factories and the fields, and do not make enough money to feed their families; a group of women prostitute themselves to survive. The country is now run by His Excellency Ole Excellence and his assistant The Minister of Truth and Justice, and a fragile peace is maintained by fear, violence and the ever present Voice of Truth radio broadcast, which informs the public of the punishment meted out to those who oppose the one party government.
Matigari finds the home that he has built, with the help of a young boy, who has rescued him from a mob of stone throwing youth, and a prostitute who he has rescued from two policemen. However, it is now occupied by the son of John Boy; he has obtained a Western education and, along with the son of Settler Williams, runs a major factory and plantation in the village. They are more corrupt and oppressive taskmasters than their hated fathers. Matigari attempts to claim his house, but he is beaten and jailed. However, he is not defeated, and soon escapes from prison. He travels throughout the village, a mysterious Christ-like figure who becomes a legend amongst the villagers, and a feared opponent of John Boy, Jr. and the government. All efforts to discredit or capture Matigari prove fruitless, as the villagers become less fearful of the government and more willing to stand up for their rights. A final and inevitable confrontation with John Boy, Jr. at the plantation home occurs, as the stability of the government hangs in the balance.
This was a tingling and fast-paced novel, which I read in one sitting this morning, and is based in part on an African folk story. The ending was especially good, and unpredictable despite the confrontation that was obviously going to take place. It was banned by the Kenyan government, as Matigari teaches its readers that only armed struggle would result in freedom from corrupt and oppressive African dictatorships. Highly recommended!