”The last five hundred years of European contact with Africa produced a body of literature that presented Africa in a very bad light and now the time has come for Africans to tell their own stories”, as Chinua Achebe, who has been considered as a forefather of modern African literature, writes in the preface of “A Grain of Wheat” by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (in the edition from 2012). The book was written originally in 1967, but since then the author has edited some parts for later version. At the book club, we all had our own, different editions, but could not come up with the idea of the parts that have been modified.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s acclaimed position as a rewarded Kenyan author gave some high expectations for the content of the book. Undoubtedly the theme of the book – the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and Kenya being just on the verge of gaining the independency from Britain in the early 1950´s – has defined it to be one of the most important works that has witnessed Kenya´s process of becoming an independent country. There are heroic actions and heroic characters among the oppressed in the book, but that is only a one side of the harsh reality.
A heroic character is Mugo, a hardworking peasant, who once as an orphan boy was raised by her drunkard aunt, is a man who is appreciated by his society. He is living alone, and seems to be content with his somewhat unsocial way of living. As he once stands to defend a fellow village woman against a policeman, he gains the status of a hero. This equals with the status that once had belonged to a man called Kihika; him who had understood the importance of resisting the colonial power and violence. Another important character in the story is Gikonyo, a husband to Kihika´s sister, who also shows a lots of courage through his resistance.
One of the defining questions for the reading of the book could be formulated as “what or whose is the voice in the book”? It was easy to see that the voice belongs mainly to the repressed, who are fighting against tyranny and authority which equals with the white male patriarchy of the colonialists.
The voice in Ngugi´s text is very masculine, as well. We do hear some women voices (eg.Mumbi´s), but the story is mainly focusing to the world of men. Men are pondering what is the responsibility of a man to himself and what is the responsibility to the community that surrounds us. We also wanted to raise a theme of “a hero versus a traitor”; how delicate and fine is the line between these two human features. And how easily features such as silence and inarticulateness can be interpreted as depth and courage of human nature.
Due to a lack of female voices, the book was unfortunately felt a bit outdated. A classic in the genre of African literature, however…
-Marika foto: librarything.com