Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

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Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

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Nov 23, 2011, 10:41am

Ngũgĩ was imprisoned by the post-independence government of Kenya when he wrote this satirical and allegorical indictment of the rulers of that government and the business leaders in cahoots with them and US and European corporations. (He wrote it on the only medium available to him, toilet paper.) He also explores the exploitation of women by men. A young woman, Warĩĩnga, who had dreamed of a career as an engineer but has fallen on hard times, thanks to that exploitation, is preparing to journey to her family home when she receives a mysterious card from a mysterious man, advertising a Devil's Feast and competition to select the seven cleverest thieves and robbers -- and it will be held the next day in the very town she is headed for. Along the way she meets several other people, and the bulk of the novel concerns them and their interactions with the thieves and robbers, who turn out to be businessmen competing to steal the most from the people and enter the good graces of the foreign corporations. After a dramatic ending, we see Warĩĩnga creating a new life for herself.

This is an angry novel, illustrating the bitterness and frustration of the Kenyan people who saw their hopes of independence dashed as the new leaders of the country concentrated on getting rich and collaborating with foreign corporations to exploit the people. The story is mixed with African poetry and songs, and with a lot of Christian symbolism that I couldn't completely understand. In places, it is perhaps a little didactic, but overall it is impassioned, brave, and important.