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A Grain of Wheat

3.81  ·  Rating Details ·  2,377 Ratings  ·  125 Reviews
Set in the wake of the Mau Mau rebellion and on the cusp of Kenya's independence from Britain, A Grain of Wheat follows a group of villagers whose lives have been transformed by the 1952–1960 Emergency. At the center of it all is the reticent Mugo, the village's chosen hero and a man haunted by a terrible secret. As we learn of the villagers' tangled histories in a narrati ...more
Paperback, 247 pages
Published January 1st 1994 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1966)
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Kieran Ah this is a rather old question... but I'll answer anyway. The title of the novel comes from Paul's parable in the Bible:

"Thou fool, that which thou…more
Ah this is a rather old question... but I'll answer anyway. The title of the novel comes from Paul's parable in the Bible:

"Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain."

In the context of the novel it refers to the fact that old things must pass away for new ones to be born... Colonial administration must fall so new African governments can lead, (the Uhuru movement, and the idea of liberation under Jomo Kenyatta). It's the ideal for which the freedom fighters long for and are prepared to sacrifice their lives for.
Compare this also to the relationship and love triangle of Karanja and Gikonyo for Mumbi, whose love eventually blossoms at the end, which was 'fertile'?
What happened to the idealism and moral vision of the Thompsons?Why did it fail?
Mugo's treason and heroism... (his true act of heroism was finally owning up to his betrayal and so purifying his soul in the process even though he was condemned by the people).

There's a number of moral lessons throughout the novel. But the main one I think for me was that things like wheat take time to grow, one must not be impatient for Uhuru, but make sure it grows steadily.
The other would be that all power has the potential to be corrupted, regardless of race, as we see with characters like Robson or the MP that cheats Gikonyo and Karanja.

I hope that answers the two possible interpretations of your question.(less)
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A Grain of Wheat centres a political narrative about the struggle for independence and liberation in Kenya; about rebellion against British imperialism, and on this level it is searing, laying bare the injustice from the point of view of a richly varied cast of rural Kenyan people. Ngugi draws on Conrad to nuance the idealistic, but cold and inhuman character of the white DO, Thompson. He gives space to the character of each of the people in the village, revealing their motives in all their ambi ...more
Kyriakos Sorokkou


TITLE: A Grain of Wheat

AUTHOR: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o


This was not an easy novel. The exchange between the present and the past was (mainly at the beginning) confusing, but you get used to it as the novel progress. The same goes with the names. You don't know if Mumbi is a woman or a man, or if Karanja is a she or a he. But you get used to it as well.

The present time of A Grain of Wheat takes place in the 4 days before Kenya's independence from the British
Aug 13, 2013 Lisa rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, kenya
Uhuru is a Swahili word that means freedom. It is a rallying cry for freedom fighters and the name given to the day when Kenya became an independent country in 1963. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o takes a magnifying glass to the feelings, motives and consciences of people caught up in the events leading up to Uhuru. Viewed from a distance of years and oceans, the lead-up to independence and ultimate triumph over the colonialists is unequivocally a time of celebration for Kenyans. Thiong'o dashes this picture ...more
Jan 27, 2014 طَيْف rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
كلما أبحرت أكثر في الأدب الأفريقي، كلما تأكدت أكثر من أنه يخبئ النفائس بين حروفه، وكلما ازددت حبا لقراءة المزيد منه

وهذه رواية تستحق القراءة، أبدع فيها أنغوجي بطريقة سرده للأحداث، فأمتعنا بمراوحته بين الماضي والحاضر، وبين مشاهد يتركها هنيهة ليعود ويركز الضوء عليها ثانية، مصورا إياها بعدسة سينيمائي مبدع، في مشاهد تخلو من الترتيب الزمني التقليدي أو السرد العادي...متصاعدا بالسرد ليرتب قطع الأحجية فتتضح الصورة أكثر فأكثر مع كل مشهد...متغلغلا لعمق الشخوص وخبايا نفوسهم فيكشف عما خفي منهم

أنغوجي الذي عاد
Harry Rutherford
A Grain of Wheat is a novel about the inhabitants of a village in Kenya in 1963 in the last few days before the celebrations for Uhuru — that is, Kenyan independence. It was originally published in 1967, so the material was completely current at the time, although after finishing it that I read in the introduction that

Ngũgĩ revised A Grain of Wheat in 1987, to make the ‘world outlook’ of his peasants more in line with his ideas of the historical triumph of the oppressed.

and that

Ngũgĩ has said o
Thais Serrette
i found this book a little difficult to grasp and understand. The book continuously and unexpectedly went into flashback and it left me a bit confused, even though i do see this as one of the author's techniques and styles, I personally found it difficult to understand. I however have so much for Kenya and their struggle for independence and the trials and tribulations they went through, whether it be betrayal by their own people or by the British. It clearly depicted and painted a picture as to ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
A story of Kenyan independence and the toll the preceding struggle took on people.

Well, this is embarrassing--I don't know what to rate this. Based on the first couple pages I'd pegged it as a slog, and not expecting to enjoy it but feeling I should read it anyway for my world fiction challenge, read nearly half the book in a crowded place with divided attention. Turns out this is a complex story with a lot of names (many of them similar), a lot of jumping back and forth between past and present
Aug 24, 2011 Marcy rated it it was amazing
Ngugi is one of my favorite authors. This novel is a stunning portrayal of British colonialism in Kenya in the lead up to Independence. What is most powerful is the narration that focuses on several characters through flashbacks about their relation to the British and to the Mau Mau resistance fighters. I especially love the way Ngugi portrays how many of these characters internalize colonialism and shows the damaging consequences of this not only on a personal level, but also on a communal one. ...more
J.M. Hushour
Jun 11, 2015 J.M. Hushour rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Astonishingly good. I am no expert on African literature--or any literature for that matter--and bought this as a blind buy at my local, pure and simple. In fact, I probably bought it on the basis of his name, shallow, yes, but it's served me well in the past: buy everything you can't pronounce.
Ngugi's novel is a story of the last few days before Kenya became independent. The numerous characters have colliding and intersecting storylines that weave in and out of the themes of desperation, betray
Sep 01, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I used to assign this book to high school students. The Mau Mau rebellion and the emergency are exciting to history students, I think. When you think of all the similar stories of a colonial policy of concentration camps during a rebellion, the US in Vietnam and the Philippines, the Germans in South West Africa, the French in Algeria, the British in Malaysia and so on, this book is as relevant as anything to world history. Also it might be the single best piece of art about those experiences (po ...more
Jul 13, 2012 Neil rated it it was amazing
This is an absolutely brilliant piece of literature describing life in a Kenyan village in the aftermath of the war with Britain in the 1960s, where each villager has their own secret about their actions during the violence, slowly tearing everyone apart. Despite the grim premise, I really enjoyed reading this and got a insight into the life of people in a very different world.

Will make you want to go to Kenya..
Jun 19, 2012 Val rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-tour
This is much more of an indictment of colonialism than Paradise, which is understandable in the context. The route to independence for Kenya was a violent and divisive one, while Tanzania had a mostly peaceful transition.
The book is set post-independence, but concerns memories of actions during the 'unrest'. All the characters did things, or failed to do something they could have done, which they examine in the run-up to the independence celebrations. Very few of these actions and the motives fo
Oct 17, 2011 Amari rated it it was amazing
A masterpiece. The characters are sharply drawn and the plot is indisputably powerful. I am very moved by the depth of characterization (helped along by the seamless omniscient point of view; this gently reminds readers of the inner struggles, innate morality, and complexity of even the characters (and/or actions) we are initially eager to hate.

Perhaps I'm oversimplifying something that I don't understand fully, but I would say that the thrust of Ngugi's argument is that the political situation
Jan 07, 2011 Meg rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in African literature but disappointed by Things Fall Apart
I went into this novel comparing it to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, which in spite of its many rave reviews I found to be relatively underwhelming. In my opinion, A Grain of Wheat was much better, but also very different.

The structure and style of A Grain of Wheat is certainly more complex and underscores Ngũgĩ's experience and education with western literature. Additionally, he includes a white colonial perspective on Kenya's independence, and while this view isn't as clearly developed as
Oct 06, 2015 Anne-Marie rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone!
Recommended to Anne-Marie by: African lit prof
This is one of the best books I have read in a long time. If I had more time, I could write pages and pages of stuff about it and what I liked, what it made me think about, etc.... but I don't have time, so suffice it to say that this book takes a fascinating look at the aftermath of the fight for independence in Kenya. Each character is treated with such compassion, and the book takes no moral stance, simply presenting events from everyone's point of view and leaving the reader to judge (or not ...more
Jun 17, 2012 Wangui rated it really liked it
It took me a while to digest this book after I finished reading it because like many others have mentioned it contains many interwoven stories and the novel uses a lot of flashback.
Also, I was just not quite sure what the grain of wheat, whose produce could not be predicted at the time of planting, was exactly. I finally decided that it was the State of the Emergency.

With that the novel portrays the different effects that the State of Emergency in Kenya from 1952-1959, had on different people
Josh Caporale
I am flirting with giving this either 3 or 3.5 stars. I use a 0-10 scale, so the number of stars used on the 1-5 scale are doubled. I would also specify if a book gets no stars or half a star.

As for A Grain of Wheat, I feel that I should have started with another Ngugi wa Thiong'o novel after reading about the overview of what they were about. This novel primarily follows the influence Mugo has on a Kenyan society that is doing their best to obtain independence from Britain. In addition, the nov
Jul 09, 2012 Stasia rated it it was amazing
This book is fantastic on so many levels. It's set on the eve of Kenya's independence and manages to humanize a complicated and bloody history in a way that lots of books set around war don't. It tracks a few different people and their experiences--yes, experiences which are all colored by racial tensions and colonialist rule and revolution, but somehow the author manages to keep the story true to each individual experience rather than resorting to broad generalizations about oppression and war. ...more
Didacticism and related flaws aside, A Grain of Wheat is a perfect example of a character-driven novel. Mugo, Gikonyo, and the rest of the African characters are all fantastically drawn out, and I'm far more interested in their interplay then their relationship with the crudely drawn colonialist Thompson. And when I see how those very human, very flawed characters try to make do in tough times-- trying to maintain their livelihoods, betraying each other politically and sexually-- I find A Grain ...more
Jan 10, 2016 Tinea rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: not your 1st Ngugi book! ngugi's amazing but start somewhere easier!
Don't have time yet to write this up, and besides, I'm currently stewing in that post-getting-wolloped thoughtfulness of a complex book I haven't fully dissected. I might start over and review after my second round on this one. We're talking treason, forgiveness, courage/weakness, and about ten other really deep themes he rips open and lets fall all over the place. Damn, Ngugi, packin it in.
Bookish Dervish
Aug 09, 2014 Bookish Dervish rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One the first English-speaking African novels I read. I will never forget Mugo and Kihika as I was taught by Dr. Mouzan.
Claire C-g
May 07, 2010 Claire C-g rated it really liked it
Ngugi signed my copy of this book. He is very charming, I was very starstruck.
Mar 27, 2015 Anne rated it liked it
Worth reading if you are interested in the story of Kenyan independence.
Mar 19, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing
I read the Penguin Classics version of this book. This is the second book I have read by Ngugi and I found it difficult to get through. One, I read it in bits and second he uses a lot of interwoven narratives and flashbacks throughout the book. The story captures the brutality of the "Emergency" and British rule in colonial Kenya. Even though I am familiar with the history, the horror of what happened then is truly unfathomable. It leaves indelible scars on the survivors. One of the main charact ...more
Jun 14, 2014 conec rated it liked it
I took it upon myself to read a bit about Ngugi wa Thiong’o and learned that he was a follower of Fanonist Marxism, if that wasn’t already clear from the motifs found in A Grain of Wheat, and that he drew from his personal experiences in Kenya. For example, he had a brother who joined the Mau Mau and another brother who had been killed. Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat depicts the events in 1963 that led up to Uhuru, Kenya’s independence day, within the townships of the Kikuyu people. The novel focu ...more
Robert Beveridge
James Ngugi, A Grain of Wheat (Heinemann, 1967)

Another entry (the thirty-seventh, to be precise) in Heinemann's always above average African Writers Series. Ngugi gives us the story of Kenya on the verge of independence (the action takes place in the days before, and the day after, Uhuru). While the book's main focus purports to be on one of his principal town's inhabitants, Gikonyo, it soon becomes evident that the story is about the town itself. And this is where Ngugi falls short.

The structur
Mika Auramo
James Ngugin Nisun jyvä-romaanissa (suom. Seppo Loponen, a Grain of Wheat) tapahtumat sijoittuvat 1950-luvun lopun Keniaan. Aiheena ovat englantilaisten siirtomaaherrojen harjoittama terrori ja sen seurannaisvaikutukset, esim. keskitysleirit ja vapaustaistelun tukahduttaminen.

Pääosin tapahtumapaikkana on vankileirejä lukuun ottamat syrjäinen Rung’ein kaupunki ja sen lähistö. Rakenne on oivallisen mielenkiintoinen, sillä ihmisten sankarina pitämä Mugo paljastetaan petturiksi, ja marttyyrikapinall
Apr 13, 2015 Frank rated it it was amazing
The expectant hope of Kenya in the four days in 1963 leading up to independence from Britain in a small town. Like all small towns, secrets lie just below the surface and the greatest belongs to the haunted and silent village hero, Mugo.

Ngũgĩ deftly winds through flashbacks and current events to reveal how the seeds of future dischord are already sown in the struggle for independence through characters who all seem to show equal parts weakness and courage. The great national leader, Jomo Kenyat
Nicholas During
Oct 04, 2007 Nicholas During rated it really liked it
Grain of Wheat is a great example of political/historical fiction. At times Ngugi states his political theories of the end of colonialism in Kenya more than creates in depth characters, but wide range of heroes villains lovers rival white black successes and failures give this book the wide perspective that helps to understand a complicated issue. By focusing on a small village rather than the metropolis of Nairobi or the heroics of Jomo Kenyatta Ngugi shows how the struggle of decolonization- c ...more
Joel Ntwatwa
Jan 03, 2015 Joel Ntwatwa rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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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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“Our fathers fought bravely. But do you know the biggest weapon unleashed by the enemy against them? It was not the Maxim gun. It was division among them. Why? Because a people united in faith are stronger than the bomb” 13 likes
“In any case how many took the oath and are now licking the toes of the whiteman?No, you take an oath to confirm a choice already made. The decision to lay or not lay your life for the people lies in the heart. The oath is the water sprinkled on a man's head at baptism” 5 likes
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