Wizard of the Crow
is a sprawling seven hundred plus page novel
writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o
, set in the fictional African
nation of Aburiria, a fictionalized version of Kenya. The novel was written in the Gikuyu
language by the author, who also translated it into English
, meaning that he in effect wrote the novel twice. The book was published in 2006
, and is set in the same general time period.
The author's life story is somewhat grim, with a years long imprisonment in the late 1970s for political writing, followed by decades of self-imposed exile in the United States. Having read these facts and started the book, which begins with a description of the cruel, autocratic Ruler of Aburiria, I was expecting a somewhat grim memoir of life in a police state. Instead, Wizard of the Crow is a work of comedy, sometimes dark, sometimes quite slapstick, detailing the surreal, bizarre world caused by the Ruler's paranoia and meglomania, and by odd web of intrigue that follows his plan to make a modern Tower of Babel called "Marching to Heaven". The main characters in the book are The Ruler; two of his squabbling, backstabbing ministers; a greedy and confused real estate developer and his wife; and Kamiti and Nyawira, two young intellectuals who together become the eponymous Wizard of the Crow.
The basic plotline of the book, which divides and reweaves, comes from an incident where Kamiti, fleeing from the police after being caught up in a protest by an underground opposition group, makes an ominous looking sign cautioning against the "Wizard of the Crow". His ruse is taken seriously, and by a comedy of errors, every character in the book ends up coming to the Wizard of the Crow for advice. Kamiti's lover, Nyawira, also takes up the guise of the Wizard of the Crow, which adds to the irony and confusion of the plot, because one of the major problems that the Ruler and his various secret policemen search out the Wizard to solve is the hiding place of Nyawira. This is a small sketch of the plot, as I said, the various schemes and counterschemes of the vicious, yet venal government become very twisted and bizarre.
The book works on many levels, as both a serious statement about the types of people that still retain power in many parts of the world, and the system that allows them to do so; as a panoramic view of a society that many of us may not be familiar with; and as an inventive, rich literary work. For those with the time and inclination, I would recommend reading this book.