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The River Between

3.72  ·  Rating Details ·  1,726 Ratings  ·  114 Reviews
...that rarity, an almost wordless love story that avoids pseudo-nobility while remaining proudly and distinctively African. - The Guardian

Christian missionaries attempt to outlaw the female circumcision ritual and in the process create a terrible rift between the two Kikuyu communities on either side of the river. The people are torn between those who believe in Western/C
Paperback, 175 pages
Published 1969 by Heinemann African Writers Series (first published 1965)
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Dec 12, 2013 Rowena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this story to be very reminiscent of one of my favourite books, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as both stories deal with the turmoil, changes and confusion that arose in Africa after Christianity was introduced. In The River Between, two communities of Kikuyu (a Kenyan ethnic group), one Christian, the other traditional, struggle as the Christian group tries to outlaw female circumcision, which they believe to be a pagan practice, while the traditionals being distrustful of the “whit ...more
A subtle and rhythmic book on the impact of colonialism in a Kenyan people. This focuses on the clash of interests and views between a tribes' past traditions, and the missionary tradition of Christianity. One would first attempt to sympathize with the culture that is under attack, but then you realize that a key element of that culture is female circumcision. As such, women are a main discussion poinnt of this book, but here they have very little agency.

You grow accustomed to the writing style
May 03, 2016 Zanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Although it was published after Weep Not, Child, this is the first book Ngugi wrote. For me, it contrasts with later works like Wizard of the Crow, which gives the strong impression of being written for the people it is about, (with the exception of the corrupt ruling class) whereas this book, I feel, unintentionally stands apart, employing a degree of ironic social critique, for example when parents mistake beatings by teachers for good pedagogy. The later work exudes affirmation and encouragem ...more
Robert Wechsler
Oct 09, 2014 Robert Wechsler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-lit
I read this novel because I thought Ngugi would win the Nobel Prize today, but he did not. In any event, I’m glad I read it, because it has been very long since I read his work (since reading A Grain of Wheat in high school, not long after it was published).

I was struck by the rhythm not of Ngugi’s prose, but of his telling of the story, the repetitions, hesitations, thought processes, excitements, rememberings, and fears. The writing itself is not of much interest. The fablistic, traditional, a
Dec 23, 2013 Donald rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ngugi tells a tale of the divisions in a community in Kenya brought on my colonialism and Christianity. The rift grows as each of the major divisions solidify their positions amid the invasion of the country. The focus of the battle is between the Kenyans rather than the invaders, reminiscent of how in the diaspora the frustration of communities often gets turned on to itself rather than the wider system that creates and sustains those kind of divisions. An important read for black Americans bec ...more
Often compared with Achebe’s, Things Fall Apart, The River Between is a defining piece of POCO lit. Written in 1961 in the wake of the Mau Mau uprising and the context of recent and bitter memories, The River Between represents colonialism as an economic grab of resources, with education, language and Christianity being subordinate to that aim. As missionaries settle in the land and establish Christian ideals, the rifts between two Kikuyu communities, one Christian and one traditional, is explor ...more
Dec 27, 2014 Ema rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2014, kenya
Cum știu foarte puține lucruri despre cultura kenyană, romanul lui Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o a fost o incursiune interesantă într-o lume guvernată de tradiții și ritualuri străvechi, a cărei armonie și autenticitate sunt tulburate de sosirea oamenilor albi și a credinței creștine. Sunt vremuri de profunde schimbări, în care membrii triburilor ies din ignoranța lor fericită pentru a cunoaște beneficiile dar și blestemul civilizației. Ei sunt deposedați de pământurile lăsate de părinții neamului lor, sunt ...more
N. Jr.
Jan 10, 2015 N. Jr. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: cross-culture
An excellent description of the typical dilemma African culture has faced
since the introduction of Christianity, and the divisions it caused during the time when colonialism became fully entrenched. The challenge of cultural development is still relevant today, and this book is a good start in initiating discussion as to how this conundrum can be resolved.

The book presents the problem in the form of two villages on opposite sides of a river in the Central Highlands of Kenya, one clinging to trad
Jan 02, 2013 Arukiyomi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
This is a very important book and a pretty good read too. If you’ve read and appreciated Things Fall Apart, this is cast in the same vein and you will appreciate this.

Written in a similar lyrical style to The Life and Times of Michael K or Cry, The Beloved Country, The River Between tells the story of gradually deepening rifts in a community as the influences of colonialism make themselves felt. Factions appear and the battles between them force each and every individual to choose.

The vehicle fo
Jul 28, 2012 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book illustrates powerful tensions between tribal ways and Christian ways in Africa in the time of Livingstone, the famous missionary. Both sides incur guilt. The novel effectively uses imagery of shedding blood to point to a human longing for redemption, but characters struggle with different visions of where that redemption will come from. Will it come through keeping the purity of the old tribal rituals (including circumcision of both the male and female variety)? Will it come through ed ...more
Nancy Freund
Nov 04, 2015 Nancy Freund rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was first recommended this author and this novel by three well-read Tanzanian friends, bought it immediately, but then set it aside. Recently a new friend from Nairobi said she considers Ngugi Wa Thiong'o the most authentic writer of Africa, and this is in fact her second choice novel among his works. (She praises 'A Grain of Wheat' first). But I finally read this one, and I'm glad I did.
This is not a Disney version of African culture, even as its plot would seem to follow a familiar narrative
”Râul care ne desparte” este o carte care cuprinde și surprinde, între copertele sale, un univers aparte aflat la granița dintre tradiție și modern. Grație stilului simplu, clar, fără artificii, al propozițiilor și frazelor scurte, al dialogurilor și portretizărilor succinte, cuvintele capătă putere, schimbă destine, stârnește revolte, dragoste și ură. Spusă din perspectiva unui narator omniscient (pe alocuri parțial omniscient, lăsând spații libere de completat de către cititori), povestea este ...more
Talbot Hook
Dec 01, 2014 Talbot Hook rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There was an excellent chapter in the middle of the book, wherein the main character, Waiyaki, was making connections between rivulets and drops of rain, and the white settlers that were impacting his native land. It was truly well done, and I will not ruin it here by summarizing.

The sheer amount of parallelism, however, was a bit much. It was too obvious, the demarcation of this duality, at times; the existence of the two hills, two peoples, two ways of life, the lovers on either side was more
Stephen Durrant
Ngugi (b. 1938) is a highly regarded Kenyan writer who has written novels and plays both in English, such as the novel under review here, and in Gikuyu. "The River Between" centers upon a young man named Waiyaki, who supposedly descends from tribal leaders of great power. Waiyaki dreams of healing a split that has occurred in his valley between those who are attracted to Christianity, with its access to education and the power of the white man, and traditionalists who uphold age-old tribal pract ...more
Nov 02, 2011 Darryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This short novel is set in colonial Kenya, in an isolated region where two rival populations each live on a ridge separated by a river that nourishes—and erodes—the land of both communities. One community is mainly Christian, led by a local man who has embraced the colonialists' religion and rejects traditional values, particularly circumcision of young men and women; the other is based on tribal traditions, led by a group of elders and influenced by a young man who is descended from a rich line ...more
Aug 18, 2010 Gato22 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book provided a fascinating perspective on the internal divisions that emerged among Gikuyu families in Kenya, as some adopted Christianity and European customs while others tried to preserve their own religion and traditions - and other tried to unite the two groups. The book was rich with cultural and historical detail, but the characters seemed to be archetypes rather than real people.

Stylistically, in fact, the whole book read more like a fable than a novel. It seemed that the plot and
I understand that this book is a classic. I did enjoy it for the most part, but not the ending. The plot and the foreshadowing kept jerking me around, didn't hold together in a satisfactory way. It's the story of an African tribe divided against itself, and by a river. Some people have gone over to the missionaries and their rigid view of Christianity. Others are loyal to the old customs and want land and autonomy taken back from the white invaders. A young man looks for a middle way, stating wi ...more
Jun 07, 2014 Ak rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is such a prolific writer that captures every detail that if you are familiar woith the settings of whatever piece he is written, it is easier to imagine and identify with.The River Between captures the pre-colonial Kenya..the advent of the missionaries and then the white settlers.He exposes the changes that take place as battles are drawn between those that collaborate (led by Joshua) and those opposed to the 'Butterflies'-(Missionaries & White Settlers) led by Kabonyi.It ...more
Tim Prasil
Aug 31, 2012 Tim Prasil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I teach a class in literature of the non-Western world, and--with some hesitation--I adopted this novel for my students. The hesitation came from the topic and custom of circumcision, both male and female, which serves as a point of conflict as an indigenous culture meets Christian missionaries and other forms of colonization.

Happily, the topic is handled very well. In fact, the emphasis of the novel is on the protagonist who strives to mediate between the divisions erupting in his community. Hi
Dora Okeyo
Jun 03, 2011 Dora Okeyo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Love this book! It is a must read for anyone who wants to know how fickle humans can be. The lead character, Waiyaki, wants to bring about change in his community but they do not see his side of the story and in the end, those who once saw him as their son, neighbor, villager-turn their backs on him and he is left to fight a battle in which solely he cannot win.
Just goes to show that if you are fighting for change, not everyone will support you and you have to be prepared to walk alone. Love thi
Jun 07, 2008 Pesh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
this book was my first encounter with the difficulties and sacrifices that come with fallin in love, considering that i read it in my early teens- the culture clash that tears a whole community apart regardless.
Mar 29, 2014 Sneha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is a very nice book. It tells us about two nations living coast by coast and their relationships. It is enriching as many life experiences are included and light is thrown on human thoughts which create barriers in the way towards peace and progress. It also has an emotional side where the main character falls in love with the daughter of the biggest enemy of his ridge.But fails to fulfill his love desires as his dream for bridge the gap between the two villages. Having attained the position ...more
Siyamthanda Skota
- Yearning. Yearning. Was life all a yearning and no satisfaction?
Kenneth Cairney
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 23, 2015 Mercy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I have seen Christ" a phrase said by one of the characters trying to choose between a new found religion and the gikuyu cultural practice of circumcision. Apart from Chinua Achebe, Only Ngugi has truly portrayed the internal conflict experienced by Africans when choosing to adopt the new religion that encouraged then to stop some cultural practices. It shows confusion about the place of their native language. It is also a story about love. Waiyaki the main character is charismatic representing ...more
Niklas Braun
May 21, 2014 Niklas Braun rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african
After reading Things Fall Apart by Achebe, I was interested in expanding my collection of literature from African authors. I am always interested in reading works from authors of all countries, so Kenya seemed a good next step. I have to say, however, that this one was a disappointment.
Now I was expecting for a command of English that was less than that of other authors, but this was far below what I had in mind. The overall writing style of Thiong'o was rushed and immature at best, and middle-
Eva Lucia
Also posted on Eva Lucias blog

“The River Between” is the story of the division of two cultures in a community after the white man has introduced Christianity to Africa. It has a socio-cultural angle and it is interesting to see an insight of the history of Africa – before with the traditional structure of the tribes and after Christianity’s invasion in the country. It shows a classic culture clash between myths, traditions and pride vs. Christianity and the white man’s footsteps that sound so vi
Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's short novel "The River Between" is a wonderful look at what happens when old and new traditions clash and divide a society.

Set in Kenya, it portray the Gikuyu and its leaders as they come of age in a time when missionaries were changing the landscape by converting portions the native population to Christianity. (It was great to read something that illustrated the reaction of native people to Livingstone.) Others fear tribal traditions are being lost and see the missionaries
Nov 30, 2013 Jessica rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-books
Under the guise of what some consider a 'love story', Ngugi Wa Thiong'o talks about a growing gap between two cultures as Christian missionaries come in and make the native people begin to question the traditional practice of female circumcision, in his book The River Between.

I will say that the book does a much better job of showing the cultural justifications of the practice of female circumcision than many of the other similar books that claim to do the same.

I felt that the book did a better
Aug 04, 2013 Wanjiru rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To understand a book you need to understand the context in which it is written. The sense of community and the social ties that define it is in my opinion one of the major themes that runs in the art and culture of African continent. What makes this book very powerful is that it uses a seemingly simple story that highlights timeless themes.
The "old" African ways were fashioned from years of trying to figure out man's relationship with the environment - his natural, spiritual, social world! Femal
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Shelfari 1001 group: The River Between by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o 2 4 Aug 04, 2016 05:41AM  
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Kenyan teacher, novelist, essayist, and playwright, whose works function as an important link between the pioneers of African writing and the younger generation of postcolonial writers. After imprisonment in 1978, Ngũgĩ abandoned using English as the primary language of his work in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue. The transition from colonialism to postcoloniality and the crisis of modernity ha ...more
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