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The River Between

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  3,461 ratings  ·  302 reviews
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.
Paperback, 152 pages
Published August 11th 2008 by Pearson (first published 1965)
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Machanga Circumcision, male and female and the ceremonies appertaining ... oath taking ...there could be more but those are the ones I recall off the top of my…moreCircumcision, male and female and the ceremonies appertaining ... oath taking ...there could be more but those are the ones I recall off the top of my head.

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Dec 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
I imagine being a woman in the beautiful landscape of colonial Kenya as having to choose between Scylla and Charybdis, as being torn between ancient rites and Christian missionaries - neither of them offering any kind of individual choice and development for a woman.

As a woman, you are stuck between quite similar, yet opposing male monsters of rigid patriarchal rituals, fighting each other with religious salvation vocabulary and with you as a prize.

It is interesting for myself to follow my mul
Dec 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 17, 2013 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 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
This novella explores the riff created among a community in the area outside of Nairobi when they encounter European missionaries. Some embrace the European culture and religion and others regard any interaction with the whites as a betrayal of the community. Caught in the middle is a young man who wants his community to benefit from European education of their children while still retaining their ancient culture. This short book gave me a large insight into a moment in history in a world far fr ...more
Chris Chapman
Feb 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: zz-yr-2018
Apparently simple but deeply complex and lyrically beautiful story set in colonial Kenya. A young man from the Kikuyu people who seems to be destined to be its leader, comes to realise that what is being presented to him as a choice between resisting colonial pillage and disenfranchisement, and exposing his people to new knowledge and thinking, is actually a false one. It’s a novella so rather than taking time to develop characters, the focus is much more on presenting a set of complex themes an ...more
Dec 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting, engaging, concisely written short novel about black Kenyans torn between accepting white settlement and rejecting it. Joshua, a black Christian preacher and leader, has two daughters, Muthoni and Nyambura. He is accepting of white settlement. Waiyaki is an educated man who lives with the Kenyans who follow the old customs and want to banish the white man. Waiyaki is a teacher and wants his people to become more educated, allowing them to learn new ways of supporting themselves. C ...more
Jun 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
really beautiful picaresque piece of post or anti-colonial literature that convincingly explores the conflicts that colonialism sows within the colonised themselves, colonisation as a dialectical process and not as some simple 'goodies v baddies' narrative. weird to think my parents' generation reading african literature like this and applying it to what they were living through in northern ireland ...more
Mar 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A religion that took no count of people's way of life, a religion that did not recognize spots of beauty and truths in their way of life, was useless. [..] It would only maim a man's soul, making him fanatically cling to whatever promised security […]

If the white man's religion made you abandon a custom and then did not give you something else of equal value, you became lost

Change. This books is about change and how people cope with it. When the Christian missionaries arrive at an African reg
Jul 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
I feel like the author didn't want to write anymore so just ended it there ...more
The book is about the disturbances and conflict in Kenya during the English occupation. The Christian missionaries, who saw themselves as superior and civilized, forced their way of life on the people of Kenya, took over their land and wanted them to pay tax. Many people of Kenya didn’t want to change.

In the book, it all comes down to the issue of circumcision. The Christians are against women circumcision. The tension grows more and more, because of this. The tribe does it because it is traditi
Niklas Braun
Apr 11, 2014 rated it it was ok
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-
I wanted to like this novel, and it has turned out that I did. This is the first book written by Kenyan writer Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o that I've never read before, and I hope to read more of his work. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o once wrote in English, but he changed to writing in his native language, Gikuyu. He has been a political prisoner, taught at universities in the United States, and his writings have been considered for a Nobel Prize.

This short novel started out at a snail's pace. The language is spare b
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
N. Jr.
Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 17, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
I don't think the Goodreads summary people actually read the book. I'm also not sure about some of the other reviewers either. Saying this book is about female circumcision is like saying To Kill a Mockingbird is about Scout Finchlearning about shooting birds. It is a plot point and it is memorable,  but I wouldn't say that is what the book is about. 

The story is about how Africa is torn between its traditional ways, the Christian ways imposed upon it, and the need to find their own path. Circum
Nancy Freund
Jun 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 23, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
The River Between: A young strong man named Waiyaki (Wai- I shorten their names so I could remember them easier) who learns his heritage from his father Chege. The River is Honia it is the life blood for both villages that run along the ridges above the valley floor where the river flows. Wai's father wants him to go to the white men and understand their ways, but not take them on. Christianity is brought to Africa and has split the two village tribes led by Wai's father Chege and Joshua, Nyam's ...more
Stephanie Chia
Dec 04, 2016 rated it it was ok
An interesting glimpse into life on the ridges in the age of colonialism.

The characters had strong voices and it was easy to understand their perspectives, despite this book being written in third person. Not my usual genre, I read this as a literature text, which could make my review of this book biased, but I do think the story was a little monotonous if boring at times, but then again it is well written with good ideas.

Also this book has short chapters, say one chapter to 3 or 4 pages, and t
Aug 18, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, africa
i didn't love this as a novel, too much tell and not enough show. never a description of nature nor village. but did find it an interesting subject, echoing achebe's 'things fall apart', telling of those caught in the smash of a colonial religion and administration against the old ways. waiyaki, our hero, looks to meld the best of each, treading a hard path, and perhaps representing ngugi (who was james ngugi when he wrote it). while it concerns similar problems, this book lacked achebe's detail ...more
Siyamthanda Skota
Aug 02, 2016 rated it liked it
- Yearning. Yearning. Was life all a yearning and no satisfaction?
Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Excellent read. I recommend this excellent book. Fabulous and excellent.
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Aug 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
Dec 11, 2020 rated it liked it
I found this story to be thought provoking. Colonialism divides the People. Those who convert leave the traditional ways behind. Those who remain true to the traditions find pressures to change. Resentments grow on all sides, all facets of all conflicts.

I found the main characters interesting, and also a bit confusing. I felt most sorry for Waiyaki. It seemed to me that his father took Waiyaki's choices and desires and, in a sense, his freedom away by giving him a task foretold by a vision as a
Stephen Durrant
Jun 27, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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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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