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WIZARD OF THE CROW (article first published : 2007-05-13)

Launched at the Time of the Writer Festival in March was Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow (London : Harvill/Secker & Warburg).

From this exiled Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet and literary critic comes a magisterial comic novel that is certain to take its place as a landmark of postcolonial African literature.

Ngugi’s aim in Wizard of the Crow is, in his own words, nothing less than: “to sum up Africa of the 20th Century in the context of two thousand years of world history”. Commencing in ‘our times’ and set in the ‘Free Republic of Aburiria’ the novel dramatizes with corrosive humour and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburirian people.

Hilarious and endlessly inventive, Wizard of the Crow is like a cross between a Pynchon novel and Confederacy of Dunces , offering a particular insight on contemporary African despotism.

Ngugi, who secretly wrote a whole book (The Devil on the Cross) on toilet paper while in prison, has returned with what can only be called a madcap political farce. The narrative structure keeps the reader in suspense by sometimes introducing ideas and stories in one narrative strand , then later working backwards to bring in more explanation. The power of rumour (as it was in the Rwandan genocide) plays a prominent role in offering the citizens the only un-censored form of communication.

Wizard of the Crow forces the reader to live with the troubles of Africa (much) longer and, while not soft-peddling anything or letting anyone off the hook, makes them liveable. To read this novel as specifically about the Daniel arap Moi regime in Kenya, is debatable.




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