Postcolonial Perfection Found in ‘A Grain of Wheat’

    Salman Rushdie competes as one of my all-time favourite authors, so when I think of postcolonial masterpieces that truly accomplish the overturning of imperial mindsets and Western systems of literary control, I immediately race to one of his gloriously eccentric epics, “song(s) to our mongrel selves” – ’The Satanic Verses’ or ‘Midnight’s Children’. However Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s compact retelling of Kenyan Uhuru (Independence) in ‘A Grain of Wheat’ perhaps achieves more, through it’s exploration of a small village’s identity and past, the way in which the two interconnect and the modes or representation in which history and our sense of self are recorded.


    Ngugi’s third person narrator follows a set of all too human and fallible characters, centred on Mugo – the supposed hero (of the village and the novel) – and his suppressed story of a past that threatens to overrule present victories. In the run up to the British leaving the country and Kenya being declared an independent state, the novel loops its way through a series of flashbacks and interior monologues in an attempt to reconcile and redeem through truth.


    Ngugi shows us that this is how we remember. Rather than the event-fuelled, ‘objectivity’ of a Western historian, ‘A Grain of Wheat’ presents this dark period of British oppression in the warm tones of African mythology passed on orally over generations and around roaring village fires.


    Words by Kate Kelsall

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