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Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir

(Memoirs #4)

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  221 ratings  ·  38 reviews
Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s powerful prison memoir begins half an hour before his release on 12 December 1978. A year earlier, he recalls, armed police arrived at his home and took him to Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison. There, Ngugi lives in a block alongside other political prisoners, but he refuses to give in to the humiliation. He decides to write a novel in secret, on ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published April 5th 2018 by Vintage (first published January 28th 1981)
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Average rating 4.06  · 
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 ·  221 ratings  ·  38 reviews

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Dec 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017-read, kenya
"Thought for despair? No! I am part of a living struggle. And without struggle, there is no movement, there is no life." Will this man now finally get his well-deserved Nobel Prize, for God's sake?!

It's actually bizarre to even rate this, the memoir of a man who was once thrown into a maximum security prison after writing a play in an African language and staging it with local workers and peasants. Today, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is considered one of the main contestants for the Nobel Prize in Literatu
Jessica T.
Jan 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley, nonfiction
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was a political prisoner in Kenya and this is his memoir about that dark time. It is also a history lesson about the people's struggle in Africa to rise above colonial and state oppression. It's an amazing work. I had no idea about Africa's history, but I feel like I learned something and am hungry for more.
What is troubling for me is that I see parallels in America's society and what was described in this memoir.. This is a very poignant read.

thanks to netgally
Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This republished edition is really divided into two distinct parts: the first half is about Kenyan political history as a British colony, with the second half on the day-to-day injustices of being a political prisoner. Further confusing matters is the reality that the book is not structured in a linear fashion, jumping around in time from the author's arrest to the colonial times in the late 1800s/early 1900s to the country's liberation, with too many names to remember. To summarize the first ha ...more
Aug 08, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is, by far, the worst book I've ever read. It is nothing but a vanity piece for the author, who is clearly puffing himself up to be some sort of African Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He's also an anti-Semite. Kenya was right to help Israel refuel after the Entebbe raid. ...more
Jul 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I am not trying to write a story of heroism. I am only a scribbler of words. Pen and paper have so far been my only offensive and defensive weapons against those who would like to drown human in pool of fear-or blood."
"There's a fellowship that develops among people in adversity that's very human and gives glimpses of what human beings could become if they could unite against the enemy of humanity: social cannibalism." -Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Although the
Hannah Jez
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While I volunteer with a prison abolitionist organization and have worked on a legal prison rights case, I had zero knowledge about Kenya's prison system, let alone its history or politics, before reading this book. The chapters flit between Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's thoughts in prison and the study of the past. He is exceptional at marrying all this information, so it was a captivating and educational read. I learned so much about the effects of [neo-]colonialism in Kenya and highly recommend this bo ...more
Sergey Kahn
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
A really interesting and informative memoir that in part tells the story of Kenya's struggles under colonial rule and how the colonial mindset persisted into post-colonial Kenya and resulted in, among other things, the author's imprisonment for his political views. The author juxtaposes his experience as a political prisoner with that of other key figures in Kenya's resistance, showing how the system tries to break the will of the imprisoned and even can turn them against their own causes. ...more
Mar 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Let me preface this by saying I've never read any of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's novels; I saw this available on NetGalley and they provided me with a copy.

Ngũgĩ's strength and perseverance in this memoir is unparalleled. I never doubted his commitment to staying firm to his beliefs. It's tough to review this as a piece of literature; it's a very personal story, it's short, and I'm not quite sure it's even meant to embody his entire prison experience rather than his unparalleled focus on maintaining in
James Winter
Jun 09, 2018 rated it liked it
I love "Devil on the Cross," and was a little let down by this memoir. Only about a third of the material is really about N's time in a Kenyan prison. The other thirds are a brief history of Kenya's colonial oppression and a mish-mash of other works by imprisoned writers as well as some of N's experience writing "Devil." Honestly, although there are some excellent passages diagnosing Kenya's problems at the time of this writing, I expected more here. ...more
Oct 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Colonialism has cast a long shadow over the history of modern Africa. The injustice many Africans endured under colonial oppression is hard to imagine or stomach. And the legacy that it left behind is one that Africans still struggle with into the present. In this edited reprint of his prison memoirs from the 1980s, Mr. Thiong’o not only retells his political imprisonments, but reflects on how British colonialism and its legacy played a major role in his and others’ political imprisonment.

Mar 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I had only learned of Thiong'o's work through the book list 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. I haven't read any of his fiction works but I was curious about this memoir being released so many years after its initial publication. Apparently it was edited to focus on Kenyan political history as a whole and less on the day-to-day injustices in the prison. The book is not structured in any linear fashion, but jumps around in time from the author's arrest to colonial times to recent political ...more
Leah Hoelscher
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
GREAT READ. Thiong'o was a political prisoner in the late '70s in Kenya for writing a play in an indigenous language and founding a community theater run by working class people. He writes of the struggles of the Kenyan people against British imperialism, and the importance of practicing one's authentic culture and language in the face of the influence of foreign capital which seeks to dominate all aspects of life. Thiong'o wrote a novel on toilet paper while imprisoned, and describes the act of ...more
Stochita Radu
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ngugi writes from his heart the entire time. He is not afraid of stripping himself off the shield of power that the others might want to see on him. Tears, insanity, resistance, honesty and a desire of change and improvement in the lives of the people at the bottom of the class system, make this novel a must-read for everyone, regardless of their age.
As we are living some turbulent times, in which the rich are getting richer, the poor even poorer, being more oppressed and subjugated by the econo
Apr 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Prison memoirs of revolutionaries (who remain revolutionary) are such staggeringly heart-breaking and beautiful insights into resolve and spirit many of us are unfamiliar with. Ngugi, with his wit and vulnerability, analyzes imperialism, (neo)colonialism, theatre, detention, suffering and the long lineage of the many brave Kenyan struggles against foreign domination in this memoir partially written on toilet paper while in prison. His telling of prison as the incarceration of the body and a disc ...more
May 03, 2021 rated it really liked it
"The act of imprisoning Democrats, progressive intellectuals, and militant workers reveals many things. It is first an admission by the authorities that they know they have been seen. By signing the detention orders, they acknowledge that the people have seen through their official lies labeled as a new philosophy, their pretensions wrapped in three-piece suits and gold chains, their propaganda packed as religious truth, their plastic smiles ordered from abroad, their nationally televised charit ...more
Will Bell
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I love the way Thiong'o writes, its beautifully clear and he has a very distinctive and personal voice which suits this book. The book itself is a fascinating insight into life in a prison and its psychological impact on the author, but at the same time it feels like it could or should be something a little more. As if the author was interrupted in his flow one too many times due to the circumstances in which the book was written.

Its stood the test of time though, as so much of what he wrote the
John Benson
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is the last of Ngugi Wa Thiong'o's memoirs that I have read but was the first one that he wrote. The other three memoirs take place in earlier time frames than this one, so I did read them chronologically. It has a much different feel than the other memoirs. Part of it details this thoughts on Kenya's colonial and postcolonial political history and his detention as a political prisoner from December 1977 through December 1978 at Kamiti Prison. Little of it reads like a diary, but nonetheles ...more
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, memoir, africa
Ngugi wa Thiong'o left it all the table with regards to the impact of colonialism on his country and the deplorable behavior of the colonizers and how they influenced the "independent" government set in place after their "exit". This was far more than a prison memoir. This is a deeply personal and intimate look into how colonialism still affects the continent of Africa and how it affected him personally. I am so appreciative that this was re-released. If you need further clarification on why Afr ...more
Tyler Jones
Interspersing the story of a year spent as a political prisoner in Kamiti Maximum Security Prison with the history of Kenya's colonial and neo-colonial oppression, Thiong'o succeeds in connecting the personal struggle to the broader social struggle. It is both prison memoir and a history book, but it also is a book about the importance of art, particularly literature and drama, as a tool for social change. ...more
Barbara Tsipouras
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Star Nintcy
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Spent Friday some time skyping with Prof. Ngugi wa Thiongo a day after reading his book 'Detained' ....

Several wise nuggets on a range of topics including how language is/was used to disempower societies and his views on social, cultural & economic growth/freedom.

I'm incredibly inspired by this amazing 81 year old!
Jennifer Stoy
This was hard to get through because I don't know nearly enough colonial and postcolonial Kenyan history and the sheer injustice hit close to home. Beautifully written, amazing amount of anti-colonial theory and practice in the thing while also being this straightforward memoir of prison. Just fantastic. ...more
Njatha Wanjiku
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
In this book, Ngugi recounts the details of his arrest and subsequent detention in 1978.
This book is more about Kenyan politics than anything else.
Mark Laichena
Aug 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top, africa, 2017, history, novels
His dismissal of colonial culture has really stuck with me.
Bure Kabisa
Oct 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
“‘Wrestling With the Devil” is a powerful testament to the courage of Ngugi and his fellow prisoners and validation of the hope that an independent Kenya would eventually emerge.”

Kelly K
Dec 06, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018
I'm about to sound like a dick here but I just couldn't get into this one. It wasn't what I was expecting. ...more
May 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ngūgī never disappoints

Like in his other memoirs, Ngūgī does an excellent job of unapologetically taking readers through some very important historical times in Kenya.
Francis Bunch
Jan 26, 2021 rated it really liked it
It has encouraged me to read 'Devil on the Cross'. ...more
Jacob Wren
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o writes:

Indeed, the right to strike was a worker’s basic human right: it was only the enslaved, because it has been taken away from them, who had no right to bargain for what they should be given for the use of their labor power. If a worker is unable to strike, then he is in the position of the enslaved.
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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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“For the first 3 weeks of that month, I was also under internal segregation. This simply meant that no other political prisoner was allowed near me. During meals, I was made to sit apart from the others, often with a guard between us. During my ration of sunshine, I had to sit in my corner, often with a watchful guard to ensure that there was no talking or other contact between me & any of the others. Because we were all on the same block it wasn't easy for the warders to enforce total segregation. The other political prisoners would break through the cordon by shouting across to me or by finding any & every excuse for going past where I was sitting & hurriedly throwing in one or two words of solidarity...This was always touching coming from people who were in no better conditions.” 2 likes
“For a detained patriot, breaking through the doubled walls of gray silence, attempting even a symbolic link with the outside world, is an act of resistance And resistance--even at the level of merely asserting one's rights, of maintaining one's ideological beliefs in the face of a programmed onslaught--is in fact the only way political prisoners can maintain their sanity and humanity. Resistance is the only means of trying to prevent a breakdown. The difficulty lies in the fact that in this effort one must rely first and foremost on one's own resources (writing defiance on toilet paper for instance), and nobody can teach one how to do it.” 1 likes
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