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A Grain of Wheat

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  3,460 ratings  ·  219 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 1967)
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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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3.83  · 
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 ·  3,460 ratings  ·  219 reviews


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Khashayar Mohammadi
Great introduction to African literature. I can't believe this is the first book I'm reading by an African writer.
MK
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is not an easy book. It's awful and unsettling in so many ways.

I think that for me, the book is not about Uhuru/Kenyan independence, or even the fight for it. For me, the book is mostly about the horrific effects of colonialism on the people, not just the Africans, but mostly the Africans, but also the effects, in glimpses, of the African culture on the African people. (Or, rather, was that the traditional African culture, or how it became under the brutalization that was normalized under c
...more
Zanna
Aug 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-re-read
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
Davide
Two Hearts
(are better than one?)

I could start with two quotes, words spoken by two characters in two very different dialogues:
«Which of us does not carry a weight in the heart?»
And:
«Strike terror in the heart of the oppressor.»

A Grain of Wheat, 1967: we are just a few years from the end of colonial rule (the day of proclamation of the independence of Kenya is December 12, 1963) and there is nothing celebratory.
Indeed, the dominant theme is betrayal, ubiquitous in all its meanings and ramificati
...more
Kyriakos Sorokkou
AFRICAN BOOKS MARATHON

BOOK: 4

TITLE: A Grain of Wheat

AUTHOR: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

COUNTRY: Kenya

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
...more
Lisa
Aug 07, 2013 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
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
...more
Marcy
Aug 09, 2011 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
Daniel Chaikin
Feb 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
12. A Grain of Wheat by Ngũgĩ wa Thiongʾo
published: 1967, revised 1986
format: 247 page paperback
acquired: 2010 from a now closed little bookstore in Brenham, TX
read: Feb 7-18
time reading: 9 hr 20 min, 2.3 min/page
rating: 4

My Litsy review:
Not sure how to review this, although for some reason I like the sound of the description—"a book on post-colonial Kenya". For all there is about Kenya's Mau Mau Rebellion, it's the way he is able to capture the emotional state of the characters that really st
...more
Calzean
An impressive novel that takes a bit of concentration to figure out the various characters and changes in the time of the event.
The story of the years leading up to Kenya's independence is told through a set of characters who represent the oppressor, the freedom fighter, the unwitting hero, and those who were traitors.
The author showed the impact of the fight for independence on all of these characters and also of the communities they lived in. Written in only three years after independence, t
...more
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
J.M. Hushour
May 30, 2015 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
...more
Michael
Sep 01, 2011 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
Kate
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
2/5stars

I'm sure this is great but I legit didn't understand a single thing in this book and could barely follow class discussion even though I'd read every word of this since I need to write an essay.
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
...more
Neil
Jul 13, 2012 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..
Amari
Oct 17, 2011 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
...more
Pep Bonet
Jan 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read recently a story about the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Basically it went like this: the Jury wanted to grant the Prize to Ngugi wa Thiong'o (in actual fact the joke was about a Japanese author) and they couldn't write the name correctly, therefore decided that Dylan was easier to remember and write. This is just a joke, but it hides a truth: Ngugi is a great author.

He delivers a political novel, highly committed, about Uhuru, Freedom, in December 1963, and the fight that brought it.
...more
Maroua Bentoucha
All along I avoided reading writers who use the stream of unconsciousness , but this one couldn't but finish it.. and I seriously have no idea how I have ..
I really hated the book and loved it at the same time .. it is a wide door , a huge one to the African Lit , and Civ ..
the mere description of their lives , made me want to visit Kenya.
Wa thiong'o is such a great writer , and I loved his philosophy , I loved how he made me as an Algerian reader , believe in the black power over the Whitman
...more
Tinea
Nov 27, 2013 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.
Holly McKie
Mar 14, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: university
I have absolutely NO CLUE what really happened during most of this because it is not a book to take ages reading. I'm definitely going to have to re-read it to fully appreciate it because I THINK it's good? Am I allowed to say that?
Amara
Apr 01, 2019 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: out-of-africa
Obama recommends this. How can I pass that up?
Laura
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uni
I think my rating is more of a 4.5!

This really surprised me! I was slightly confused at the beginning of the novel, but I grew so invested in these characters and their stories. Such a powerful, political and complex historical novel. It jumps from the present (1963 - Independence day in Kenya) to the characters' pasts and we see how their lives are interwoven and connected. The characters are complex and feel real.
Val
May 20, 2012 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
...more
Meg
Nov 24, 2010 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
...more
Anne-Marie
Oct 06, 2015 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
Wangui
Jun 17, 2012 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
...more
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
...more
Stasia
Jun 27, 2012 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
Mary
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-up-a-storm
It took a while to get into this book, but once I "got to know the characters" it grew on me. I definitely learned about this tragic period of Kenya's history. The difficult parts of the book are about the resistance against the British; these passages seem more ambiguous than the clearer imagery I got from the actual characters and their interactions. I would definitely recommend keeping a list of all the characters and their relationships. I wish I had! I found myself going back to check who w ...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
“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” 24 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” 7 likes
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