Ngugi’s first novel, The River Between (1965), was published after Weep Not, Child (1964) but written beforehand, originally entitled “The Black Messiah.” With revisions, The River Between forms the initial “chapter” in Ngugi’s chronological cultural history of the Kikuyu. While The River Between reaches back indirectly to the origin and focuses directly on events in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Weep Not, Child continues the chronology by examining events at the end of World War II, speculating on the causes of the Mau Mau wars. A Grain of Wheat (1967), while set on one day in 1963, looks back at events from the Mau Mau years to Kenyan independence. The fourth novel in Ngugi’s cultural history, Petals of Blood (1977), written in 1972, focuses on neocolonial practices in independent Kenya.
Throughout the period of these four novels, Ngugi himself undergoes significant changes in his own perspective, just as the sequence shows changes in style and thematic concerns. Sharing Waiyaki’s idealism and writing The River Between as a devout Christian (having been educated in a mission school), Ngugi nevertheless also labored under the memory of his father’s poverty and degradation at the hands of an African landlord. Soon, Ngugi was to drop his Christian name James, renounce altogether his Christianity, and adopt elements of the psychological analysis of Frantz Fanon (as...
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