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.