A Grain of Wheat

A Grain of Wheat

eBook - 2012
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Barack Obama, via Facebook : "A compelling story of how the transformative events of history weigh on individual lives and relationships."

The Nobel Prize-nominated Kenyan writer's best-known novel

Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya's independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952-1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village's chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers' tangled histories in a narrative interwoven with myth and peppered with allusions to real-life leaders, including Jomo Kenyatta, a masterly story unfolds in which compromises are forced, friendships are betrayed, and loves are tested.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
Publisher: New York : Penguin Publishing Group, 2012
ISBN: 9781101584859
Characteristics: 1 online resource
Additional Contributors: OverDrive, Inc


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Nov 03, 2018

(I paired this reading with Ousmane Sembène's "God's Bits of Wood", which was a MaineCat lending borrow for me. That means that book is not in my home library's catalog, so I don't see a way to review it. I'll copy that review below.)

Review for "A Grain of Wheat" -

This is not an easy book. It's awful and unsettling in so many ways.

I think that for me, the book is not about Uhuru/Kenyan independence, or even the fight for it. For me, the book is mostly about the horrific effects of colonialism on the people, not just the Africans, but mostly the Africans, but also the effects, in glimpses, of the African culture on the African people. (Or, rather, was that the traditional African culture, or how it became under the brutalization that was normalized under colonization?)

"Colonial" sounds almost pretty to an American in the 21st century. What colonialism was, was not pretty. Not by a long shot. It was brutal, in-humanizing, horrific, awful ... just a system of hollowing out whatever wealth was to be had, by whatever means, from whatever piece of ground was 'colonized'.

I wish I had known to pay attention to the characters in the beginning, and to realize that they'd reappear in very different incarnations later in the novel. What "The Emergency" (a dozen years of basically martial law - also known as the Mau Mau Uprising, or the Mau Mau Rebellion, or the Mau Mau Revolt - preceding Uhuru/Independence) did to the various characters in the novel, the ways in which it changed those that survived, is raw. Those who died, those who were sent to concentration/detention camps, those who ran from the villages to the forest to fight - to become freedom fighters, terrorists, a defending army, all of those things -, those who became turncoats - brutalizing in turn former peers -, those who were the authority ... everyone, everyone is affected.

Still hard to rate. As I began the novel, it didn't seem special. A one-star, a two? Past the halfway mark it was a five-star, at the end, I don't know.

It's not a fluffy or gentle read, that's for sure.


Review for "God's Bits of Wood" -

5 stars
Incredible book. Highly readable, very gentle in tone. You almost are lulled into not quite feeling the real pain and cost of their months long struggle. Almost. It breaks to the surface, but what I'm most left with is the manner of peace, within the various family groups and communities.

It's a great book.


(review copied from my goodreads account)

1/30/19 - Edit to add:
I just got a request from BBC World Book Club on World Service radio, inviting me to pose a question to author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o during their recording with him in February, based on this review (which I had also posted at Goodreads).

Checking the book out again, to refresh my memory! :)

Aug 13, 2010

A wonderful read. The novel is set on the eve of Kenya's independence from British rule. It centers on the theme of oppression, betrayal, disillusionment, and despair. The plot is non-linear, with flashbacks and several storylines interspersed but woven nicely together.


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