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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling story w profound moral msg for all activists
I loved this book. The story itself is compelling, detailing both African and European characters' perspectives on Kenyans' struggle for independence from Britain. Just for the story alone, the book is an intriguing page-turner that completely satisfies. But beyond that, it has a powerful and inspirational moral message that I have taken with me and hope never to...
Published on July 16, 2002 by Virginia Coklow

versus
3.0 out of 5 stars I felt that it was a good book it certainly has a lot of historical points ...
I felt that it was a good book it certainly has a lot of historical points that can easily be backed up. The book itself can be seen as a gateway to see if you are interested in the Kenya Independence movement. However the book itself is not written using familiar words from a non-Kenyan reader. The book focuses on the Kenyan Emergency state during the Mau Mau Rebellion.
Published 9 days ago by Peter


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling story w profound moral msg for all activists, July 16, 2002
I loved this book. The story itself is compelling, detailing both African and European characters' perspectives on Kenyans' struggle for independence from Britain. Just for the story alone, the book is an intriguing page-turner that completely satisfies. But beyond that, it has a powerful and inspirational moral message that I have taken with me and hope never to forget.
Each of the major characters commits an act of betrayal to attain a greater goal, whether it's the British officer who wants to create a happy, harmonious colony and finds himself torturing and murdering in pursuit of this vision, or whether it's the Kenyan rebel who betrays his comrade to save his own life, feeling that he must survive to perform important tasks for his people.
Each one chooses less-than-perfect means to an imagined end. But what we and they learn, is that the "end" never comes, and we are left living day-to-day in the rubble of our "means." The betrayals that crisscross the novel scar all the characters with heavy losses, representative of the losses and betrayals that scarred Kenya as it stood on the threshhold of independence, divided between those who had collaborated with British occupation and those who had rebelled. And yet the final note is one of hope, that somehow reconciliation and transcendence of past injuries can be attempted.
I took to heart two messages: that those of us who struggle for justice in today's world must never betray our own principles in pursuit of some supposed higher good--because we too will be left only with our betrayals and no higher good in sight. And, that even after betrayals and years of conflict, there is still a spark of hope for renewal.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An even-handed, complex, masterful study of a revolution, June 16, 2001
By A Customer
A Grain of Wheat is a remarkable book, which manages to intertwine personal tragedies and joys with national ideologies and events quite effortlessly. The novel is partly the story of a nation - of Kenya's (ultlimately successful) struggle to rid itself of British domination - but mainly the book deals with the toll that this long fight has taken on individuals; the impact, both for good and evil, that it has made on individual lives.
Another reviewer mentioned that the book's fluid chronology - which keeps flashing back and forth between present and past - made the book difficult to follow. For me, this style of writing only enhanced the book's strengths - throughout the course of the story you are allowed to see the same events through many different sets of eyes (and it is amazing how different the same thing can look to a British Army officer and a Kenyan freedom fighter.)
To sum up - A Grain of Wheat works very well, both as an exploration of Kenya's painful history, and as a realistic look at the toll that any war will take on the people who fight in, and live through, it. Definitely reccomended!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Uhuru at last?, December 8, 1999
By 
A brand new perspective upon the emancipation of so-called Third World Country! On the verge of Kenya independence, both colonizers and colonied were bewildered and confused. White colonial agents lost faith on their lifelong commitment, and Kenyans were cast into a precarious future which they had been longed for and at the same time, worried about. National passion became a nostalgia censorship, and those who did not contribute to this "exploit" or those who chose to save his own skin or family and betray his to the movement bore a brand "Cain" on their forehead forever. A vivid description of the struggle between nation and individual.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exodus from Africa, April 17, 2002
By 
Robert E. Olsen (McLean, VA United States) - See all my reviews
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Ngugi wa Thiong'o, born into Kenya's largest ethnic group, the Gikuyu, in 1938, was educated at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and the University of Leeds. His "Weep Not, Child," published in 1964, was the first novel in English to be published by an East African author. "A Grain of Wheat," Ngugi's postcolonial novel of political, social, sexual, and religious struggle, death, and rebirth, was published in 1967, when he had begun working, first, as a reporter and, then, as a university professor. In December 1977, shortly before the death of Kenya's first president Jomo Kenyatta, vice president Daniel arap Moi, who would later rule Kenya with an iron hand, had Ngugi detained for a year as a political prisoner for what Moi regarded as the unsettling political message of Ngugi's popular play "I Will Marry When I Want". With the play, Ngugi turned his attention from Kenya's emergence from British occupation to the political corruption of independent Kenya. After his release from prison, Ngugi was unable to resume his university post. He left Kenya in 1982 and now publishes exclusively in his native Gikuyu, because he views the structure of the English language as containing a European, and hence foreign, vision of Africa. Ngugi is regarded as one of the leading African authors of the last half-century.
"A Grain of Wheat" is not realism in the Western style. It does not set out to tell one story from one character's point of view. It does not rely on finely drawn character development, interior monologue, dilemmas established early and worked out late, and the sort of rational choices which characters exercising free will make in Western fiction. Rather, it is fiction in a Marxist-Homeric style with Biblical overtones, told from many points of view, and crossed, perhaps, with an African oral tradition. In "A Grain of Wheat" birth is destiny, struggle is inevitable, the Lord disposes, and until the very end of the novel destiny is therefore imposed on each of the imperfect village characters, rolling over them, grinding them into an "earth smoked grey like freshly dropped cow-dung", reminding them of dogs tearing the limbs off a rabbit and running "with blood-covered pieces" in different directions. (215, 229)
Kenya, Kenya's history since the late 19th century, and Kenya's emancipation from the Brits during the 1950s is the story of "A Grain of Wheat," and that story is told through the complex interactions of Kihika, a resistance leader; his beautiful, universally desired sister Mumbi; their friend Mugo, who wrestles with his conscience even as he is revered as a hero of the resistance; Kajanga, a quisling who becomes chief of their village and lusts after Mumbi; and Gikonyo, the husband of Mumbi, who, after seven years as a political prisoner, rejects his wife when her single flaw is exposed. Primal emotions fluctuate and move them. The changes of point of view are abrupt. The effect, kaleidoscopically, is to create a picture of an entire society in turmoil.
It may be difficult for Westerners to bond with the central characters. Their actions may sometimes seem strange. There is no program to identify them and no roadmap for the gradually developing plot. But it is a wonderful tapestry Ngugi creates, the politics are provocative, and the unvarnished images of Africa roll off Ngugi's pen like the waves of a wine-dark sea. This book is well worth reading.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brutal tragic analysis life in confict, February 9, 1999
By A Customer
This is a tragic situation, where there can be no winners. It does not have heroes, heroes do not exist in tragedies- rather it has real people with real feelings, who due to the nature of the system, and their beliefs brought about by years of conditioning must come face to face with brutal realities. The book painfully traces the genesis of the conflict, and as demónstrated with Mugo, everybody is affected, you cannot be a bystander, niether are the people neccessariry evil, but rather are as a result of complex situations that comfronts them. Though, we do not want to believe, its with the quilt admition by Mugo, that makes him great, and which inevitably starts a healing painful process that must be addressed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Read, November 6, 1999
By A Customer
This book was very interesting.Despite Ngugui's flashback format A Grain Of Wheat is certainly an attention keeper. Kenya at the brink of Uhuru (freedom) from the British, as experienced through the eyes of some interesting and greatly entertaining characters. Amazingly in the midst of this historical event the story is filled with love and betrayal.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ambiguities of revolution, June 17, 1997
By A Customer
The novel treats the problems of the independence struggle in Kenya against British rule during the fifties. The central figure is Mugo, a quiet, reserved man who gets caught up in the turbulance of the revolution. Mugo's betrayal of Kihika is the central moral dilemma of the story. Should he go about his business or should he help the revolution? The answer to this question costs him his life.The characterizations are vivid and easily keep the reader's attention.The attitudes of the British are portrayed in the colonial administrator John Thompson. A fascinating book which requires the reader to reflect on the tangled issues of justice and freedom
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite captivating, January 25, 2001
Ngugi Wa Thiongo who is one of the best African writers describes the situation in his native Kenya at the threshold of independence.The story is told through the lives of 5 main characters who came of age then Kahiki the revolutionary,Gikonyo and Mumbi who provide a compelling love story in the midst of the chaos.There is also Karanja and Mugo.The story is told from an African perspective,it also deals with the Emergency period during the Mau Mau revolution of Jomo Kenyetta.It describes also the issues faced by the British as they withdraw from Kenya.This novel takes numerous twists and turns but gives a clear picture of the situation then.I wholeheartedly reccomend it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kihika was a brave and courageous man that everyone loved. He fought for the right to independence until ..., December 14, 2014
-- Thiong’o, Ngugi Wa. A Grain of Wheat. New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2012. Pp. 243.

A Grain of Wheat by, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, is a truly captivating read, which manages to intertwine the tragedies and joys of life with national events effortlessly. The book takes place in Kenya during the time period between 1950-1960. It revolves around the idea of “Uhuru”, or independence, against the British national government. During this time in history a series of nationalist movements are formed against the foreign powers that resided in Africa. Shortly removed from World War Two, African nations that participated and received improper benefits and treatments upon the return to Africa, formed independence movements to take down the Imperial powers from Europe. In Kenya an event starts in 1950 known as the Mau Mau Rebellion, or “The Movement”, to take control from the British Government. This movement was lead by Jomo Kenyatta. He was a Kenyan activist against British rule and began criticizing the government while he was apart of the Kikuyu Central Association, a newspaper editorial. Shortly after he formed the Kenya African Union and began protesting more severely against the government. Overtime his Union grew in strength and power. During the Meeting At Nyeri in 1952 he held a convention for 25,000 people. Here he brings forth the causes for independence and what the people should do. In the article, Jomo Kenyatte meeting at Nyeri, he says, “If we unite now, each and every one of us, and each tribe to another, we will cause the implementation in this country of that which the European calls democracy.” The fight is for independence, equal rights, fair representation, equal pay, etc., but most importantly their land. Daniel Branch wrote in his article titled, The Enemy within: Loyalists and the war against Mau Mau in Kenya, how those who were seen as Mau Mau were stripped of their property, and in return the land was given to the loyalists of the region. If someone had land they had power over the others, and this gave them the advantage. Kenyatta’s main message was to unify and regain the country that once was theirs.
The movement caused a stir among the British officials and in response enforced “The Emergency”. This was an attempt to suppress the Mau Mau through creating strict rules and guidelines. Detention camps were formed, and if one were suspected to be apart of the rebellion would be arrested and sent to these places. Cases of torture, frequent beatings, and rape are vivid throughout many accounts. Over the course of the 1950s the resistance grows stronger as Britain begins to lose its grip, and this is where the story begins.
The events that occur in the story happen over the period of the four days before Kenya gains their independence, with also background stories on each of the characters. The main character from the book is an orphan by the name of Mugo. Mugo is from the village Thabai and apart of the Gikuyu people, the largest ethnic group in Kenya. His aunt, a drunk, raised and often tormented him. Mugo grew up largely isolated from everyone else. One day he was arrested for preventing a British officer from hitting a woman, and was sent to a detention camp. Here he gained his reputation through his resistance against camp leader John Thompson. It gave others the courage to stand up and fight. “Beyond despair, there was no moaning; the feeling that he deserved all this numbed Mugo to the pain. But the other detainees saw his resignation to pain in a different light; it gave them courage” (Pp. 129). Upon his release and return to Thabai, he was seen as a hero who would replace Kihika as the Uhuru leader. Kihika was a brave and courageous man that everyone loved. He fought for the right to independence until one day his hiding place was ratted out, and the government sentenced him to death. People saw Mugo as the next great leader, often coming to him for advice. While the whole time he is praised, he feels miserable inside with a dark history eating him away. Mugo is not the man he is perceived to be. While much of the story is written around Mugo, many related characters play an important role throughout the book. Characters by the name of Mumbi and Gikonyo are trapped in a never-ending love affair that tears your heart to pieces. Mumbi has the closest relationship with Mugo, and he often turns to her for advice, or to share his secrets. The book also describes the rise of a once average citizen to a man working for the Imperialist nation named Karanja. You meet many characters associated with the Uhuru uprising that play an integral role in the development of the themes throughout the book. As you may know Kenya does gain their independence from the British, but this book does not contain a fairytale ending. It is dark and grim, and shows the reality of what many were experiencing during such a tragic time.
Not far removed from Kenya’s independence in 1962, Thiong’o writes A Grain of Wheat in 1967 in response to the current state of the government. What was meant to be a new beginning and a true democracy, relapsed and went back to old ways. In the report written by Odinga A Odinga, he describes what Uhuru was for and what became of the country since. He describes how the government failed to make changes. The country continued to be an agricultural economy instead of industrializing the nation, reliance on other nations still prominent, and citizen involvement largely stays separated from government. Odinga states, “A government that is isolated from the people, because government and wealth are in the hands of an elite that is taking power to itself, will plunge our country into pain and tragedy.” History is beginning to repeat itself and this is the point Thiong’o is trying to make by writing A Grain of Wheat. Throughout the story he describes the disrespect people have for the government and the actions they are going to take, but also the actions the government takes against its own people. This is what Thiong’o is warning the government about, start making changes or Uhuru will rise again.
If you are looking for a book describing an independence movement, this book hits it right on the spot. This book not only describes what occurs throughout the movement, but also the experiences of people from day to day. This book conjoins ordinary life and how a critical event distorts that life. Thiong’o does a fantastic job keeping you interested and craving to read the next page. While this is no fairytale ending, it is a book for the ages. During a time when a country needed their Uhuru leader, Thiong’o takes the rein.
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5.0 out of 5 stars who was often thought of as the most beautiful woman in the region, December 16, 2014
Sam Frink
12-14-14
History 340
A Grain of Wheat Book Review
Thiongʼo, Ngũgĩ Wa. A Grain of Wheat. London: Heinemann, 1967. Print.​
A Grain of Wheat tells many stories that are going on simultaneously leading up to Kenyan Independence, or uhuru. The book takes place in December of 1963 in Thabai, a rural village in Kenya. The big historical events that take place in the book are nonfiction, however a margin of the characters in the book did not actually exist. The British colonization of Kenya in the years prior to the book left many Kiuyu ready to fight the British to protect their way of life. However, the British defeated them and most Kenyans had little to no choice other than to comply with the new rules. Since the Kenyans could not beat the British head to head, a secret group known as the Mau Mau was formed to fight in a guerilla style of warfare. Gikonyo, who was a Carpenter in the Thabai, and his wife Mumbi, who was often thought of as the most beautiful woman in the region, and Gikonyo gets sent to a detention camp then Mumbi is unfaithful to him because she is not aware if whether he is alive or not. The state of the country completely deteriorates when poverty, labor, and harassment increase. Mugo, the main character, is peculiar and has a secret but it is only a matter of time before that secret gets exposed, or he achieves something that triumphs it. There is a lot of tension between characters in A Grain of Wheat such as the characters Gikonyo and Karanja, and also Gikonyo and Mumbi. There is also tension between characters and nature because when Gikonyo is sent away to concentration camps, the whole village of Thabai goes into turmoil by not having food, harsh treatment, and labor. From this turmoil, Mugo conducts a protest, and then shortly ends up in a detention camp as well.
I really enjoyed this book, particularly because it incorporated a lot of historical aspects that are not normally taught on a daily basis. I believe it is a valuable piece of literature and I think Thiong’O was trying to show the Kenyan perspective on the Mau Mau rebellion rather than the British, which is what would be typically taught. I was unaware of the struggle that occurred during this time period prior to reading A Grain of Wheat. The Kenyans really fought for their rights, which is something that should be more recognized. “Our independence struggle was not meant to enrich a minority. It was to cast off the yoke of colonialism and of poverty. It is not a question of individuals enriching themselves but of achieving national effort to fight poverty in the country as a whole.” This shows that the Kenyans had true intentions with their attempt at revolt and just wanted to save their country.
I particularly enjoyed the character of Mugo because he is the embodiment of a hero in a time of distress. In the beginning he is very kept to himself, and does not seem like he is a hero at all, despite what the rest of the Kenyans believe. However, when he is detained, it is shown what a hero he really is. He respects the British, however he stands up to them and gives other detainees a source for inspiration and courage. He is a realistic hero because he also holds faults, Ben B.D. Wilkerson states, “While this act of betrayal might negate our Western ideas of heroism, he is praised for his act of courage to speak the truth”.
This book contains a lot of historical elements that truly did occur such as the main plot events like the Mau Mau and the Kenyans fight for uhuru. Only certain characters and their relationships are fiction however it mirrors how the Kenyans were reacting to their situation at the time. They were frightened by their lives and the lives of their loved ones; therefore they made decisions they were not proud of, similar to Mumbi and Gikonyo. Even the children lived in fear, living their lives without laughter or toys because they did not know whether or not they were getting fed. A 16-year-old girl during the time of distress states, “I remember the words of my mother’s relative-freedom would not come easily. Kenyatta’s similar sentiments had appeared in the newspapers on many occasions. I therefore forced myself to swallow everything. Then I took the oath of allegiance.” Some Kenyans live with secrets that became a burden on their lives and the only way to hide them was to not say anything at all. However other characters like Kenyatta and Waiyaki were real people who were significant to The Movement. Thiong’O’s intention in writing this book is to show how the Kenyans responded during the time of distress, while also blending in the fiction with the historical elements.
Thiong’O’s family was involved in the Mau Mau rebellion. His brother was in The Movement, his stepbrother was killed, and his mother was arrested and tortured while Thiong’O’s village was suffering. It was found by many that A Grain of Wheat embraces his use of Fanonist Marxism. After writing this book he changed his name from his baptized name James Ngugi to his current name. He then started to write in his native languages, Gikuyu and Swahili. Because Thiong’O and his family was so involved with the Mau Mau rebellion, A Grain of Wheat should be considered a primary source because he had a first hand experience. The stories that Thiong’o tells embody the Kenyan attitude during their time of struggle and allow for the readers to feel empathetic for the people involved.
A Grain of Wheat is an important document in the understanding of Kenyan culture and history. Thiong’o’s personal experiences enhance the credibility of the book, and in addition it holds a compelling story between characters that are struggling in Thabai. This book is educational, entertaining, and eye opening to all readers and shows a valuable part in world history.
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A Grain of Wheat (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Grain of Wheat (Penguin Modern Classics) by Ngugi wa Thiongo (Paperback - July 1, 2010)
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