Wizard of the Crow
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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