Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o published his novel A Grain of Wheat in 1967 while he was studying at Leeds University in England. This novel is set in the village of Thabai in Kenya, during 1963, when Kenya was engaged in a struggle for liberation from British colonial rule. It serves as a microcosm of the Mau Mau Rebellion or Kenyan independence movement, showing on a village level the ethical and personal struggles and dilemmas surrounding the movement.
The central action of the story starts when Kihika visits the village and makes a speech urging the villagers to fight against the British. The carpenter Gikonyo and his beautiful wife Mumbi decide to support the revolutionary cause but Mugo feels that the Kenyans cannot succeed and that they will only harm themselves fighting for a lost cause. Karanja, who still loves Mumbi even though she rejected him to marry Gikonyo, strongly supports the British.
When Kenyan fighters conduct a successful raid on a British police post, the British send several of the young men of the village to prison camp, including Mugo. Because Mugo feels he was unjustly arrested, he stands up to the British at the camp, and acquires a reputation as a leading revolutionary, even though he is actually ambivalent and passive about British rule in general. After the young men are released, Kihika visits Mugo, but Mugo, fearing for his own life, gives information about Kihika to the British, and the British hang Kihika in retaliation for his having killed District Officer Robson.
After independence, the villagers believe that Karanja, who worked for the British as a village administrator, was the person who betrayed Kihika, but Mugo eventually publicly confesses his own guilt and is executed.