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4.9 out of 5 stars
17
4.9 out of 5 stars

on 23 August 2017
A brilliant read! Gives such a personal and vivid account of the inner turmoil that the main characters were going through. In my opinion the author does a fantastic job of telling the story from the perspective of the characters. He does with great great tact and humour as well. It's also a brief insight into colonial Kenya - a useful history lesson. I recommend it without reservation!
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on 1 June 2017
Delivered on time and in excellent condition. Thank you.
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on 3 February 2007
This is perhaps one of the greatest books by an African author that I have read. It tells the story of a Kenya reaching for Uhuru (freedom). It takes an original structure weaving skilfully between past and present as more and more of the plot is revealed. This is a book without heroes; we see the story from many angles and men whose actions seem heroic from one perspective will often deconstruct the actions when it comes their turn to tell the story. It tells of men who imprisoned in concentration camps for many years with only the thoughts of their wives to keep them going, who come out only to find their wives pregnant by other man. It tells of what price is freedom worth, and whether people actually wish to pay it. The plot revolves around the betrayal of a freedom fighter, Kihika and on one level the book is a quest to find who betrayed him. Mugo, a solitary loner thrust into the spotlight by his heroic actions and resolute silence in the face of British torture is the unwilling protagonist who tries hard to avoid the action. Reminiscent of Camus' Meursault (the Outsider) Mugo is a man who sees little meaning in the struggle, his silence from torture more a feature of his almost existentialist view of life than any belief in Uhuru. Mugo contains dark secrets whose content is gradually revealed to us as the book progresses. The other main character is Gikonyo, and we see his relationship to his wife, how he feels her betrayal and ultimately their story more than any other symbolises Kenya's path to freedom.

From a literary point of view this book is without fault. However the author is a nationalist at heart, he now writes in his native tongue and whilst the anti-colonial resonances are to be expected in novel of this theme, his passing negative references to the East African Indians was a little harsh. Thiongo is a black nationalist (as well as a Marxist) but his black nationalism not the laudable sort that Steve Biko propagated, Thiongo's has racist overtones in it. However even if we left the politics out of the book it would still be a book worth reading for the beauty of the prose and the captivating storyline.
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on 16 June 2015
Step into Africa and read Ngugiwa Thiong O's 'A Grain of Wheat' and experience historical and political change, as well as a love story, within the ridges, and Rift Valley, caused by a shift from the status-qou. The Native Africans rise up and an English man wants to commit suicide if Kenyatta is freed. A Greek and Indians are also part of the story. The Chinese and Russia, the latter as a name of a person and both as an indication of the future are included. Some African don't want change but to survive and not be detained, and some have already been assimilated into African culture and being on the edge of Settler life and/or do not have apt weapons. And all this in an Africa in general where all humans emerged centuries ago.

Other than being at least bilingual, Thiongo has a sense of humour that will make you laugh for a long time. The novel is deep enough to warrant a glossary to make very clear a person's name, a tribe, and village and to pass on some African language to readers. A speaker and reader of African language(s) may get a greater sense of rank (e.g. Chief, villager, elder, middle class, working class and so forth), and place, among the recent Native Africans, European Settlers, and Indian subjects of the British.

Land creation and land grabs of the past and today places the novel inside and outside of Africa. Today natural disasters on the globe affect a person's sense of place and home; and humans, and cultures survive and merge in subtle ways.

The overlap of some religions is evident in the novel and initiation practices that preceded colonialism is evident, among parents of boys, in not only Muslim Africa, but Judaism, and Muslim religions elsewhere. I accept that continents and countries have dominant boundaries and rules of their own that are not wholly static. The overlap between the value of the Bible to the merged groups via missionaries, a Greek Orthodox priest, for example, also links to the other groups mentioned in the novel.

Do read the novel to get a range of the African groups and places not all often mentioned today. The author also conveys his aesthetic appreciation of a beautiful African landscape, such as a snow covered peak, the forest, and the need for some, in 1967, to hunt with a dog for hare and antelope (p. 209) for food. He is also not afraid to depict poverty and/or basic life and practices, for example the poor Africans, and the non-European toilets of an Indian shop owner (something evident in Europe in an earlier time).

The range of women, from Tom boyish, to very feminine but firm and not cowering in front of her husband, in the novel, as well as their tender moments together, is an example, that goes beyond stereotype. A good writer, Thiongo has a character with negative thoughts toward his woman, and though a little graphic, like some of the love scenes, is all balanced somewhat by his narrator's written style and tone.
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on 4 July 2007
In A Grain of Wheat, Ngugi challenges the reader by using different voices within the narrative as different characters relate their views of the story, though the controlling narrative is in the form of the omniscient third person. What is really striking here is the dislocated chronology of the novel. Though at its centre it has Kenyan Uhuru, or Independence Day, the narrative repeatedly switches to different moments in the past. The narrative, though, gives no direct indication that the time focus is changing, as it does not only between chapters but also between paragraphs, which can sometimes leave the reader momentarily disorientated. This demands an alert reading, which pays rewards as at times the same event is returned to from a different angle at a different place in the novel, or the reader's response to event is coloured by their prior knowledge of what the consequences will be. Most crucially, it means that the day of Uhuru itself is inextricably linked with Kenya's painful and violent past, where courage and betrayal have been evident in equal measure. This explains why the longed-for independence is accompanied by "a disturbing sense of inevitable gloom".
The novel is an important retelling of history from an African perspective, directly challenging British colonialism in Kenya by charting the resistance to it which led up to independence, (or Uhuru, the Swahili word for freedom). His novel questions the imperial view of Kenya's history by presenting the Kenyan perspective, where the Mau Mau movement is sympathetically portrayed as a band of courageous freedom fighters, rather than as insurgents or terrorists. The novel describes the decline in imperial idealism as well as the brutality of the British military regime in Kenya in the face of resistance. However, he is equally uncompromising about the prospect for independent Kenya, describing 'a feeling of inevitable gloom' as Uhuru approaches because of the pain of Kenya's past and the corruption which is already evident in the new independent government.
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on 28 March 2016
Two things are as old as mankind: prostitution and the dynamic between oppressor and oppressed. In every struggle for freedom against an invading force, there exists those labelled as traitors or collaborators or indeed 'judases' amidst the oppressed or freedom fighters. This phenomenon is found everywhere and in every epoch in the history of man. There is the eternal debate on whether to appease and collaborate with the oppressor in order to quickly restore peace and bring about better conditions for all, or to revolt in unison against being exploited and treated as second class citizens, and to therefore bring about the rapid disintegration of the oppressor's rule. These two opposing attitudes have been responsible for in-fighting amongst oppressed peoples; and these opposing attitudes can sometimes tip the struggle in favour of the oppressor. There also exists the internal struggle that each oppressed man and woman has to face all alone before adopting either of these two attitudes.

In "A Grain of Wheat" by Kenya's most celebrated literary giant, Ngugi wa Thiong'o spins a yarn that contains factual truths regarding Kenya's struggle for independence from the British colonialists. Ngugi enlightens the post colonial generation (like myself) regarding the nauseating, gruesome practices of the British colonialists, and the questionable deeds of some kith and kin, along with the heroic deeds of the freedom fighters largely from the Kikuyu community. The central figures in this yarn are the beautiful Mumbi, Karanja the guitarist and raconteur, Mugo the priest and Gikonyo the carpenter. This is a gripping tale of romance behind the background of oppression and colonial rule in Kenya.

It is a tale that strikes at the heart of the nature of falling in love, the deep wounds of rejection, the competition for a loved one, and the ugly and corrosive nature of jealousy. It is also a tale of the pain, fear and degradation experienced by a conquered people, and man's gruesome inhumanity brought about by greed and power as exercised by an oppressor. It is also a tale that questions the extent of one's individuality and independence against the background of collective aspirations. This tale also investigates and peers into the motives and reasoning behind a man's decisions to act as he does, as either to collaborate with the oppressor or to rebel and fight the oppressor. I also found a subtler theme in this classic; that of the independence that women generally gained as a result of the erosion of Kikuyu cultural customs that resulted from British occupation in Kenya. Mumbi's new found freedom and assertiveness can be likened to the decision by the British parliament to allow women the vote as a result of women's great contribution in the First World War. It was the same in Kikuyu family structure; the women acquired a new power and independence owing their great contribution in the Mau Mau freedom struggle.

This book is a must read for all historians, philosophers, political scientists and all those stimulated by love stories.
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on 21 July 2005
Centered on the pre-Independence Kenyan struggle between the Mau Mau liberation fighters and the British colonial government, A GRAIN OF WHEAT gives a portrayal of the struggle that few writers have ever depicted. One gets a good picture of the Mau Mau fighters, the attitude of the Colonialists, their the detention camps, the nature of the war, the bloody encounters, the ruthlessness of some of the soldiers of Colonial army and the direction to independence for the African continent. Betrayal, hopes and dreams, horrors and loss are all parts of the story.
Like TRIPLE AGENT DOUBLE CROSS, WHEN VICTIMS BECOME KILLERS, DISCIPLES OF FORTUNE, KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST, we learn that the tragic nature of this story reveals the futility of conflicts which in the end produces no winners, because humanity loses when the majority of the people emerge from a war scarred for life, having lost the innocence that epitomizes the freedom of the soul.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 May 2009
This book has all the human ingredients for a tense evocation of a dramatic event in the world of nations: the independence of a former European colony in Africa. It has its whitemen, its freedom fighters, its traitors, its collaborators and its `new bosses' using their prime power to get hold of the juicy opportunities (properties) left vacant by the former ruling minority.

What will independence (the harvest of grains of wheat) mean really for the common people `used to broken appointments and broken promises'? What to do with the former freedom fighters? Will there be more jobs? Will there be more land available? What to do with the traitors and the former collaborators?

For the author, of those who judge the traitors `few people in that meeting are fit to lift a stone.'
The future is not as brilliant as it seems: `But now, whom do we see riding in long cars? It is those who did not take part in the Movement, the same who ran to shelter of schools and universities and administration. They knew suffering as a word.'
Will the former colonists be replaced by `black 'whitemen?

This book with its positive hero doesn't have a socialist message: `every man in the world is alone, and fights alone, to live.' `To live and die alone was the ultimate truth.'
One small remark: I found the picture of the `negative hero' somewhat less convincing, because of what he did `for money'.

Highly recommended for all lovers of world literature.
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on 28 July 2009
It is because of novels like this one that I read books for fun. The setting is historic, the characters real if fictive, and their reactions to the turn of events and their pain human. Moreover, there is a sufficient number of people of contrasting personalities to make it a really interesting read.

One could complain that the novel is too short. Perhaps the portraits are on the sparse side and the novel, an earthy story, has an airy quality.
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on 15 September 2010
First of all, the delivery was within the promised time so no complaints at all. Now to the book, I am Kenyan and I have been living out of the country for the last 10 years or so and I wanted to go back and discover the history of the country.
Books from Ngugi wa Thiongo are some of the best to do this.
The book describes the time of emergency up to the time shortly after independence from a Kenyan's perspective and it is done excellently. For those who are looking for a Kenyan perspective of the colonial times, this book gives you a fictional but very realistic account of the times.
I will always recommend it to anyone, history enthusiasts, Kenyans, foreigners interested about Kenya's colonial history etc.
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