rarely lags, many laughs: Thiong’o hits the mark
Ngugi has here written a weighty but engaging tale of … well, it’s a little hard to describe. There’s an African dictator, three sycophantic government ministers (so sycophantic that one had his eyes surgically enlarged to be able to spot the Ruler’s enemies, another his ears…), a traditional healer, an activist, an opportunistic businessman, a wife fed up with beatings, condescending representatives from the “Global Bank,” and Much, Much More.
Having worked in and read about African countries for a number of years, many of the players seemed familiar: for example, the former revolutionaries co-opted into the ruling party reminded me of Richard Leakey, the Kenyan opposition politician who lost credibility by joining the ruling party.
In short, I really enjoyed this piece: part farcical satire, part magical realism (as the Ruler blows up like a balloon and begins to float – yes, really), part political activist’s anthem, and occasionally just a drama. In the drama occasions, I usually wished for more farcical satire, but still, I highly recommend this book.
I’ve read three novels by Ngugi wa Thiong’o: The River Between, Petals of Blood, and this one. This is definitely the most fun (okay, it’s the only remotely funny one). I’d recommend Petals of Blood for a much more serious and depressing account of post-colonial disillusionment with local leadership. Another novel that I found illustrative of post-colonial African politics was Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People.
Note on content: the book has a bit of strong language and lots of absurdity.