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on September 25, 2006
I was first introduced to Ngugi's novels in my African literature class when I was an undergrad. My mentor, Peter Nazareth, who also teaches an incredible course on Elvis Presley, went to college with Ngugi in Uganda and postgraduate school in Leeds, England. The only writer from Africa I'd read up until that course was Achebe, but there are so many truly amazing novels by Africans out there that most Americans simply don't know about--a whole literature that goes far beyond Things Fall Apart: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Armah, Maru by Bessie Head, A Season of Migration to the North by Salih, The Famished Road by Okri, The Palm-Wine Drunkard by Tutuola, The Book of Secrets by Vassanji, Nehanda by Vera, A Walk in the Night by La Guma, The General Is Up by my mentor Peter Nazareth, and on and on. The best storyteller among them all, however, I must say, in my own opinion, is Ngugi wa Thiong'o. From his first works on up, they've just been better and better. A Grain of Wheat was the first I read, all about England giving up colonial power over Kenya, the Mau Mau movement, and Gikuyu culture. Another of his novels I love and have read several times is Devil on the Cross. He was detained by the Kenyan government in the late seventies after his novel Petals of Blood sparked the popular imagination and made him a threat to the regime. While in detention, he wrote Devil on the Cross, I'm told partly on toilet paper as it was all there was to write upon. Soaring with magic realism, it gives a mythic, moral critique of the Kenya he was experiencing. It's one of the great books I've read. And until this summer, it was my favorite of his works.

His latest book is Wizard of the Crow and I literally don't have the skills to convey how great it is. It's been awhile since he published a novel. His last novel before this was Matigari, which he wrote in 1983-84, first in Gikuyu and then translated it himself into English (as he'd done with Devil on the Cross). Over twenty years, then, since he finished his last novel. As it's published, it's 766 pages long, his longest work. And, I have to say, it is his best. It is the kind of story that cannot be written quickly, its scope encompassing much more than most novels do. This was a book that demanded incubation.

Wizard of the Crow isn't so much an African novel as it is a novel that explores Africa in a global context. It focuses on a fictitious country called Aburiria, which is controlled by a dictator called The Ruler. He's completely bonkers, and it isn't hard for me to see Idi Amin in this leader--the Ngatho - Acknowledgments at the end also point back to the Moi dictatorship of Kenya. But he, and his cabinet (with men who've undergone impossible plastic surgeries in Europe to have lightbulb-sized eyes and forearm-length ears--so as to be the eyes and ears of the country), aren't the only villains in this book. There's also the greedy businessmen and the Global Bank, who come to consider giving The Ruler money to build his very own tower of Babel so that he can speak to God every morning. On top of that, the country's money is cursed, giving off an overpowering stench to those people sensitive enough to such things as corruption, greed, and evil.

There are good guys, too, though. Of course there are. Ngugi isn't one of those writers who turns his back on hope. Kamiti is a young man, educated postgrad in India, who has been homeless and unemployed for several years after graduating--no one in Aburiria will hire him. He falls into his role as the Wizard of the Crow after pulling a prank to get a cop off his tail. He doesn't believe the mumbo jumbo he speaks, but everyone around hears of his powers and believes he's a healer and incredible sorcerer. Nyawira is a young woman he meets and the two of them develop an intense bond. She's tough, secretly being one of the top members of an underground movement that is against The Ruler and his barbaric administration. She also, interestingly, comes to wear the mantle of the Wizard of the Crow.

Ngugi's satirical edge is sharper than it's ever been, and he really cuts open the lies and shams of the world to get down to what's really moral and good in human beings. The ongoing current of humor is evenly tempered with moments of both sadness, in the harshness some people use against others, and wisdom that really gets to the heart of what's important in the world. I can't recommend this novel enough. If you're already into novels by African writers, you'll love this and might be amazed, as I have been, at how he ties the African experience together within the bigger picture. And if you haven't read any novels by Africans before, well, this is the one to read. It's got it all.
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on October 4, 2006
Usually I read pretty fast, especially with a novel I enjoy, but sometimes a book compels you to put it down from time to time as you read to think about the story and the realities which the author is exploring. This was that kind of book, a tale to savour and think about. The style is african storytelling, full of fabulous events and characters and laugh out loud language and happenings including an explosive fart to end all farts, but it is also carefully plotted as a complicated political narrative. Ngugi Wa Thiongo is writing a satirical history of Kenya and similar African nations subjected for too long to corrupt "strong men" leaders, but on a larger scale he captures the Zeitgeist of our own time and the surrealistic language and machinations of those corrupted by power and violence. The Ruler of the imaginary country of Aburiria in the story is afflicted with a malaise which a bombastic Harvard doctor calls SIE, Self induced Expansion, he is physically expanding in sync with his seemingly bottomless megalomania. The hero is a character called the Wizard of the Crow who stumbles into awareness of his own powerful gifts when he needs to save his skin in a tight spot; he takes up the role of a modern day wizard and uses common sense spirituality and an ability to see hidden truths via mirrors to heal the sick. But while he seeks only to heal even the most vicious of men, his ministry has the side effect of disrupting the complacency of the greedy Ruler and his ministers, and bringing all the muddled forces of the state against him and his friends. The Wizard, his politically motivated lover and the women of Aburiria respond with imagiative pranks and the relentless demand to be heard. While some aspects of the story are handled with a comical magic realism, this fabulism is rooted in and constrained by a profound inner realism, and it allows for insight into the choices of characters and the resulting effects on society . The plot never relies on magic but shows the role of imagination in a community. His atunement to the distortions of political language and the excesses of global capitalism cut to the quick of current American and neo-colonial politics and are nothing less than brilliant. At times Thiongo may give the reader more of the mechanics of the plot than are needed but I think the writer's purpose was to make the choices of the characters more credible and to show the cumulative effect of those choices. All in all I found the Wizard of the Crow a really rich and engaging story from a writer with a unique perspective because of his confrontations with Kenyan despotism. Anyone who can be funny and hopeful after what he has been through is a remarkable person. ( I thought John Updike's review was off the mark, but don't care for Updike's recent work anyway)
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on January 28, 2009
I enjoyed this book when it was first published. A brilliant satire not only of African politics but of politics and power in general. Throw in consistently astute observations concerning religion, human nature and superstition and you had the making of an instant classic in 2006. I have not enjoyed a book in this vein so much since A Confederacy of Dunces.

That's the good. Now the bad. Worst formatting I have seen on the Kindle. There are three main spelling problems. The Country Aburiria is misspelled 90% of the time (Aburlria). One of the main characters - Kamiti - is misspelled 100% of the time (Kamltl). Before thinking that the problem only lies with a lower case 'i' being picked up as a lower case 'l', keep in mind that several times the country is properly spelled and other more complicated names are always spelled correctly. Ruler is spelled as Buler about 20% of the time, a lot considering the dictator in question does not have a proper name and is constantly referred to as The Ruler. Then there's the annoying habit of ending the occasional paragraph with a free-standing 'r' instead of a period.

I literally stopped counting errors at 100 and had yet to make it through 1/10 of the book. What a shame because the book in hardcover was a most enjoyable read. I simply wanted to point out the problems before you download. I guess the best recommendation I can give to Wizard of the Crow is that even with the overwhelming number of errors, it's still worthy of a buy. That's how much I loved this book. I hope the publisher takes the time to correct the Kindle errors. This modern masterpiece deserves better.
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on November 12, 2007
Aburiria is a fictional country in Africa, ruled by The Ruler, a dictator unlike any other. For his birthday, his cabinet has decided to build a huge tower, tall enough to reach the Heaven, funded by loans from the Global Bank. Of course, not every citizen loves the idea, but all dissenting voices are crushed without mercy - if the international bankers get the idea that Aburiria is unstable, they won't loan the money!

Wizard of the Crow is a delicious satire, filled with outrageous characters. The African story-telling tradition is rich and colourful and Ngugi wa Thiong'o isn't saving words. The book is long and full of magic - magical realism is an excellent label for this book. The competing ministers Machokali and Sikiokuu are hilarious in their antics, yet almost painfully real, not to mention all the corrupt, power-hungry and superstitious businessmen, police and politicians.

I believe most people haven't read any books from African authors. If you wish to educate and entertain yourself, reading Wizard of the Crow is an excellent idea. Even though the book is over 700 pages long, I wouldn't have minded if it had been even longer - it was that good. Only the ending was somewhat flat, perhaps, but making a story this epic end in a satisfying way must be really, really hard. (Review based on the Finnish translation.)
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I was really looking forward to reading this novel. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's aim with this sprawling satire was "to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history." Though good, I felt that the execution fell a little flat throughout the book.

Set in the fictional African republic of Aburiria, in Wizard of the Crow the author "set out to explore human relationships against the backdrop of a rapidly globalizing world." Thiong'o, naturally, as an exiled Kenyan, has a long history of political activism.

Although a fictional nation, Aburiria is a satirical depiction of African despotism. A grandiose and grotesque Ruler dominates a corrupt and sycophantic cabinet of ministers, surrounded by venal officials and opportunistic businessmen, all jockeying for position. Part fable, part allegory, Wizard of the Crow is a magical realism parody of the political and social corruption rampant in many African countries. As such, the book represents Thiong'o's reflections on both Africa's numerous dysfunctions and, one can only hope, its myriad possibilities.

Weighin in at 766 pages, Wizard of the Crow is a work of titanic proportions. And its principal shortcoming is that the pace is at times atrociously slow. Which, in the end, killed this novel for me. Too many unnecessary POV characters make for an unbearably sluggish rhythm in several portions of this book. Indeed, I came very close to stop reading on more than one occasions. . . Even though some parts are quite interesting, others bored me out of my mind.

Sections of Wizard of the Crow appear to be undisguised attacks aimed at the dictatorship of Kenya's Daniel arap Moi. Which is not surprising, given the fact that the dictator's regime imprisoned the author in the 70s, banned some of his books, and then forced him into exile, first in Europe and then in the USA. I believe that, in order to fully appreciate/understand Wizard of the Crow, one needs to be familiar with world politics. Leftists will doubtless enjoy it more than their Right-wing counterparts, methinks.

Though Thiong'o is on the money more often than not, I did find some of his political "comments" to be a bit narrow on the ideological side. While I agree that international financial forces can be disruptive with their efforts to engender development (something this continent desperately needs), following decades of economic stagnation in so many African countries I found that the way he depicted market forces more than a little overdone. Given the author's past, tyranny and egomania are themes that Thiong'o explores through the Ruler and his entourage of sycophants.

Wizard of the Crow is an ambitious literary endeavor filled with great ideas. The humor, however, is more intellectual than funny. The political commentary is quite heavy-handed at times, yet that doesn't take too much away from the reading experience. It's the snail-slow pace which makes what could have been an excellent read merely a good one.
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on November 24, 2006
This is a fascinating book you can really sink your teeth into. The satire

is biting, the laughs come often but then the reality of our country's

present policies sets in. We would be lucky to have a Wizard of the Crow

right now in America. I highly recommend this book, it is a wonderful read.
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on July 30, 2007
Wizard of the Crow is a magical book. Not only magic in the sense of magic realism but also in the sense of the sheer wonder of the story itself. Much has been written about the book's satire almost as if it were only a satire. In many ways it is a profoundly serious book and it is because of the magic of narration(s) in this book that one might lose sight of its profound message. This is a tale of improbable magicians, folk medicine, justice, neocolonial domination and pompous westernism, feminism and these are only part of an extraordinary tale(s). It is also a story of love...a love story enveloped in magic, narrow-escapes, transformations. It will make you laugh and the beauty of the prose will make you shiver. Instead of giving a Cliff Notes recap of the book I would only say this: I was a sceptic and now I believe in magic. This is a truly beautiful and wonderful book and it is full of magic. Not Harry Potter magic but rather a true, simple magic. Enjoy ever word! It is as if a magician himself wrote this incredible book and what better compliment could you pay to the author, certainly this particular author.
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on February 9, 2007
A wonderful modern day adventure that explains the woes of African countries with honest humor.
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on November 11, 2007
With satiric wit and intimate familiarity of his topic, Ngugi quickly draws his reader into the story, characters and setting. Laugh out loud passages and wickedly funny barbs abound in the early chapters, but the momentum flags and the humor wears thin such that, after 766 pages, one can only wish that Random House had mustered an editor equal to the task of concentrating the author's prodigiously self-indulgent manuscript into the masterpiece he envisioned. It is a pity, as the potential is there, but ultimately the book becomes a slog to complete as it fails to deliver on its ambitions as a fable, satire, romance, history and post neo-colonial manifesto.

Were Ngugi not the towering figure of African literature he has become, one suspects that this book would have been half as long and twice as powerful because it would have had to earn its way onto the critics' lists, bookstore shelves and into people's libraries. Instead, at the expense of the story, it was allowed to remain a book of witty, learned and occasionally hackneyed pronouncements on all manner of things under the African (and Western) sun, because Ngugi could write nearly anything and his publisher and agent know it will sell. This kind of professional laziness all around does a disservice to Ngugi's talent and puts an undue burden on the reader. At the end, one can only marvel at what this pretty good book might have been were its potential as a novel fully realized.
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on November 14, 2007
Wizard of the Crow is very well crafted and extremely entertaining. It tells the story of a fictional African country ruled by a dictator surrounded by sycophantic cabinet ministers. The politicians, businessmen and police officers in the story are all highly superstitious. As a result they become completely caught up with what they regard as an extremely powerful wizard who is controlling all of their lives. The lengths to which they go to protect themselves and to placate the wizard will have you laughing out loud. Although it is a sattire, one finds ones'self constantly thinking of real life personalities who are just like the characters. Within the political intrigue created by the ruler and his lackeys the author manages to weave a gripping love story. I definitely recommend this book. It is a classic.
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