Of Devil On The Cross Book Review

Devil On The Cross

 Devil on the Cross

Devil On The Cross is a book written by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o a renowned Kenyan novelist. First published in 1980 in the Gĩkũyũ language under the title of Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ and then later self-translated by the author and republished as Devil On The Cross as part of the Heinemann African Writers Series.

Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ de Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

About The Author

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o born and baptised James Ngugi but later changed his name. When he was a keynote speaker at a gathering in 1967 he shocked the attendees by declaring;

I am not a man of the church. I am not even a Christian

He had proceeded to censure the church for its role in the colonisation of his native land. At the end of his speech he had been accosted by an old man who pointed out that the name James was a Christian name… After this incident his publications all bore the Africanised version of his name, a fusion of his mother and father’s family names, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o.

Ngũgĩ who writes primarily in Gĩkũyũ is a revolutionary who mostly focuses on the theme of emancipation from the yorks of western imperialism. His 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) with political themes was banned and contributed to his being arrested by the government.

I Will Marry When I Want (Ngaahika ndeenda)

Before writing Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ, his publications where in English until in prison where he elected to write in his own language. Ngũgĩ started writing Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ his fifth novel and first one in Gikuyu language in 1978 while incarcerated at Kamati Maximum prison.

He wrote the book secretly on prison issue toilet paper.

Caitaani mũtharaba-Inĩ  (Devil On The Cross) was highly popular in Kenya and the government banned it, so was a subsequent novel Matigary.  For years the author would live in exile as his worked touched on dictatorial governance.

Devil On The Cross

Devil On The Cross is a book that explores the story of Kenya centered around Jacinta Wariinga a woman who’s misfortunes can be traced communally to the malaise of society, and that much of the misfortune stems from the Western, capitalist influences on her country. Wariing then receives an invitation to attend a very peculiar gathering…

Devil On The Cross is a political novel which takes a firm stand, to expose evildoers and to point out that which is good. The book is a blend of philosophy and satire wrapped up in a politics, religion and neo-colonialism.

It’s a very hard book to read and the conversation can be a bit awkward, possibly as a translated work, some nuances got lost in translation. If the Gikuyu language is anything like other African languages then it would be deeply idiomatic with oblique dualities of expression subject to multiple interpretations.

Ngũgĩ employs some convoluted storytelling, Devil On The Cross is both frivolous and whimsical yet very serious and you are never sure where the story will lead from following Wariinga’s misfortunes in Nairobi to a feast in Ilmorog via Mwaura’s minivan a Matatu Matata Matamu Model T Ford Registration Number MMM 333.

Depending on how you will view it Devil On The Cross is a complex book on freedom, feminism, patriarchy, religion, corruption, capitalism, socialism, racism, colonization and many other things, this is less a book to be read and more to be studied.

The good

This book challenges some schools of thought, Ngũgĩ belongs to a generation of writers who struggled to get African writing on the map, to use their words and how most of our problems can be traced back to a systematic destruction of our identity.

The book also shows its possible to take back control.

The not so good

Its not an easy book to read, and I struggled with the character names, I usually mixed up Wariinga and Wangarī.  I am sure the names of the characers are indicative of something in Gikuyu but not knowing that language the meaning went over my head

That ending what was that…

Concluding Thoughts

The book may be a work of satirical fiction but the story is a familiar one to most African countries, post-independence is rife with corruption and entitlement, independent but not really free.

~B

4 Comments

  1. Today is the first time I’ve heard of or come across of Ngugi’s name; I encountered it through a book seller over in Facebook. It made me curious and now I came across his name again through your blog. Now I am more than interested in reading his works. Great review by the way.

    Liked by 2 people

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