Wizard of the Crow

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 4)

Surely the most important novel to come from an African writer at the turn of the twenty-first century, Wizard of the Crow defies definition and categorization. Ngugi wa Thiong’o has written a political satire about African countries rendered in the context of Magical Realism. The narrative chugs on in numerous directions at once, encompassing themes and subthemes that include sorcery, love, truth, hypocrisy, greed, poverty, feminism, race relations, racial identity, religion, science, and technology. It is an unwieldy amalgamation of parts that somehow adhere into a successful literary work. Central to all, however, is surely the political satire reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945) and Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963).

Ngugi has based the novel loosely on aspects of his own life. Having been victimized for decades by oppressive regimes in his native Kenya, the author, a professor of language and literature at Kenya’s foremost university, was finally imprisoned for a year in the early 1980’s. When he was released in 1982, he went into exile in Europe and the United States, where he has taught at major universities in New York and California. Returning to Kenya for a visit in 2004 after an absence of two decades, he and his wife were assaulted and beaten (his wife raped in a hotel room) and tortured with guns and burning cigarettes. He clearly believed the thugs carrying out the assault were doing so at the behest of leaders of the Kenyan government. Given such experiences, it is little wonder that he attacks the problems of Africa with verve, ferocity, and bitternesscoupled with love and sentiment.

Wizard of the Crow has a plot that is impossible to summarize; nevertheless, a listing of main events can be given. The title character, Kimiti, is an unemployed, educated man who meets and falls in love with Nyawira, a feminist fighting to overthrow the government, headed by one simply known as The Ruler. This dictator and those who surround him are corrupt, hypocritical, ignorant, self-indulgent, and entirely self-serving caricatures of human beingsand thugswho have no possible thought for the welfare of the people whom they rule. They conspire to build a modern-day Tower of Babel, the project to be known as “Marching to Heaven.” It is basically an effort at a publicity stunt that must be financed by loans from the Global Bank (a mildly disguised reference to the World Bank) and that can come only with approval from countries in the West.

After the police chase Kimiti and Nyawira into a residence, they paint a sorcerer’s sign over the door to ward off the entry of superstitious police; thus Kimiti is incarnated as the sorcerer known as Wizard of the Crow. Sometimes, Nyawira carries out the impersonation, and they become interchangeable accomplicesboth, somehow, with magical powers. Most of the work concerns their attempt to escape the police and the bumbling stupidity of The Ruler and his ministers as the government attempts to run the country through sheer terror coupled with stupidity. At times, the Wizard is summoned to help restore The Ruler’s health; the Wizard is also imprisoned in another identity. Finally, the novel moves to the collapse of The Ruler and his government.

The Ruler, a fictional, obtuse demagogue only slightly disguised as the embodiment of President Daniel arap Moi (who was in charge in Kenya for the last few decades of the twentieth century) is clearly the main target of attack in...

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(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Cantalupo, Charles, ed. Ngugi wa Thiong’o: Texts and Contexts. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 1995. A collection of critical essays written by Kenyan scholars. Provides a fresh look at Ngugi’s life from those within the country Ngugi left behind; discusses why his work is still important in his homeland.

_______. The World of Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Trenton, N.J.: African World Press, 1995. A second collection of essays on Ngugi’s work, covering even the minor texts, including his children’s book. The criticism also covers Ngugi’s language arguments and historical research.

Gikandi, Simon. Ngugi wa Thiong’o. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Juxtaposes Ngugi’s life with a social history of Kenya, providing a level of detail that only a native Kenyan could offer.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. London: James Currey, 1986. An important contribution to the theory and criticism of African, postcolonial, and Marxist literature. Although some of the material may be dated, the argument that language can be used as a tool in colonial domination is still a valid one.

Ogunde, James. Ngugi’s Novels and African History: Narrating the Nation. London: Pluto Press, 1999. Ogunde provides a critical examination of Ngugi’s earlier novels, while discussing Ngugi’s positioning of female characters and his value to Kenyan history.

Simatei, Triop Peter. The Novel and the Politics of Nation Building in East Africa. Edited by Eckhard Breitinger. Bayreuth African Studies Series 55. Bayreuth, Germany: Bayreuth University Press, 2001. Simatei examines Ngugi’s place among other writers from East Africa and ways in which his literary contributions have shaped nationalistic agendas in Kenya.