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Ngugi wa Thiong'o

United States

Renowned Kenyan writer.

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Created: 5th Feb 2008
Modified: 5th Feb 2008
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From a recent news release from the University of California, Irvine:

Internationally acclaimed writer and UC Irvine professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o is publishing a new work of fiction for the first time in 20 years.

Wizard of the Crow, a sweeping satire laced with magical realism, is described by Ngugi as a “global epic from Africa.” The author’s English translation of the novel will be released by Pantheon this month.

“Globalization is a big drama, and I wanted to explore this phenomenon,” said Ngugi. “It produces a world characterized by a dangerously widening gap between the wealth of a small stratum and the poverty of the social majority within each of the nations of the Earth. This trend is accompanied by loss of voice for the impoverished majority.”

Ngugi worked on this novel for eight years, finishing it shortly after coming to UCI in 2002 as director of the International Center for Writing and Translation. Originally, he wrote the novel in his native Kenyan language of Gikuyu, then translated it to English himself. Three decades ago, he declared his intention of writing in Gikuyu rather than English in an effort to revitalize indigenous languages.

In translating Murogi wa Kagogo into Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi said, “The biggest challenge was in trying to figure a way of rendering in English the playfulness of the Gikuyu language. Gikuyu is very tonal, and the same word could mean and suggest different things depending on the tone. Trying to translate the musicality of one language into that of another is always difficult. But still, translation is the common language of all languages.”

Wizard of the Crow is set primarily in the fictional African nation of Aburiria, described as a country “of crooked roads, robberies, runaway viruses of death, hospitals without medicine, rampant unemployment without relief, daily insecurity, epidemic alcoholism.” Aburiria’s despotic ruler proposes to build the world’s tallest building, to be called “Marching to Heaven.” While in New York to get loans from the Global Bank for the tower, the ruler inexplicably begins growing larger and larger. To cure him, a mysterious sorcerer, Wizard of the Crow, is called in. Their adventures, in Africa and New York, unfold in more than 700 pages, narrated by multiple voices from multiple viewpoints.

Ngugi’s work is already garnering attention around the world. Publisher’s Weekly called the book “a sometimes lurid, sometimes lyrical reflection on Africa’s dysfunctions – and possibilities”; Bookforum called it “an epic burlesque of a sick lumbering state and a praise song to the manifold forms of African resistance”; and Foreign Policy puts it on par with “the great Latin American novels of dictatorship by Miguel Angel Asturias, Carlos Fuentes, and Gabriel Garcia Marquez …. It now stands as a vivid portrait of postcolonialism and the banality of evil.”

A novelist, playwright, poet, essayist and professor, Ngugi has been imprisoned in Kenya for his literary works and named a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International, leading to an international campaign to secure his release. He was forced into exile in 1982 and did not return until 2004, to introduce the Kenyan-language edition of Wizard of the Crow. While there, he and his wife, Njeeri, were attacked and robbed – once again, they believe, targeted for their outspoken political beliefs.

Ngugi hopes that his readers take away more than just a greater understanding of contemporary Africa.

“We are all connected, we are each other’s keeper no matter where we are or come from,” he said.
Biographical Information
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
(At a Glance)
Place of Origin: Kenya

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