Wizard of the Crow

( 11 )


In exile now for more than twenty years, Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o has become one of the most widely read African writers. Commencing in “our times” and set in the fictional “Free Republic of Aburiria,” Wizard of the Crow dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburirian people. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, this magnificent novel reveals humanity in all its endlessly...

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In exile now for more than twenty years, Kenyan novelist, playwright, poet and critic Ngugi wa Thiong’o has become one of the most widely read African writers. Commencing in “our times” and set in the fictional “Free Republic of Aburiria,” Wizard of the Crow dramatizes with corrosive humor and keenness of observation a battle for control of the souls of the Aburirian people. Fashioning the stories of the powerful and the ordinary into a dazzling mosaic, this magnificent novel reveals humanity in all its endlessly surprising complexity.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Wizard of the Crow is first and foremost a great, spellbinding tale, probably the crowning glory of Ngugi’s life’s work. . . . He has turned the power of storytelling into a weapon against totalitarianism.”
The Washington Post Book World

“In his crowded career and his eventful life, Ngugi has enacted, for all to see, the paradigmatic trials and quandaries of a contemporary African writer, caught in sometimes implacable political, social, racial, and linguistic currents.” —John Updike, The New Yorker

“An allegory presented as a modern-day folk tale (complete with tricksters, magic, disguised lovers and daring escapes). . . . Ngugi writes simply and unaffectedly about his characters. . . . It recalls a long yarn told by firelight.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Ngugi is one of Africa’s greatest writers, and certainly the foremost voice of Kenyan literature. . . . Possibly the best comparison to make of Wizard of the Crow is with Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.”
San Francisco Chronicle

Jeff Turrentine
… with Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi has flown over the entire African continent and sniffed out all of the foul stenches rising high into the air: complacency toward despotism, repression of women and ethnic minorities, widespread corruption and — undergirding all of these — a neocolonial system in which today’s lending banks and multinationals have supplanted yesterday’s European overlords. But from that altitude he can also see a more hopeful sign: large masses of people coming together, sharing triumphant stories and casting spells.
— The New York Times
Aminatta Folrna
Wizard of the Crow is first and foremost a great, spellbinding tale, probably the crowning glory of Ngugi's life's work. He has done for East Africa what Ahmadou Kourouma's Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote did for West Africa: He has turned the power of storytelling into a weapon against totalitarianism.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
The fictional Republic of Aburiria chronicled in this sprawling, dazzling satirical fable is an exaggeration of sordid African despotism. At the top, a grandiose Ruler with "the power to declare any month in the year the seventh month" and his sycophantic cabinet plan to climb to heaven with a modern-day Tower of Babel funded by the Global Bank; beneath them, a cabal of venal officials and opportunistic businessmen jockey for a piece of the pie; at the bottom are the unemployed masses who wait in endless lines behind every help-wanted sign. Kamiti, an archetypal New Man with two university degrees and no job prospects, sets up shop as a wizard; with the help of Nyawira, member of both an underground dissident movement and a feminist dance troupe, he dispenses therapeutic sorcery to a citizenry that finds witchcraft less absurd than everyday life. Kenyan novelist Thiong'o (Petals of Blood) mounts a nuanced but caustic political and social satire of the corruption of African society, with a touch of magical realism or, perhaps, realistic magic, as the wizard's tricks hinge on holding a not-so-enchanted mirror to his clients' hidden self-delusions. The result is a sometimes lurid, sometimes lyrical reflection on Africa's dysfunctions and possibilities. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Wa'Thiong'O is an acclaimed Kenyan writer (Petals of Blood; Matigari), as well as an academic, political activist, and former exile. With his new novel, he may be implying that only magic realism can convey the complexity, ironies, and absurdities, both sociological and political, of postcolonial Africa and its relation to the global community. The story follows the monstrous ruler of a fictional African country, who wants to build the tallest building in the world and travels to New York to seek funding. Bizarre things happen to him, and in time the Wizard of the title is brought from Africa to provide assistance but instead embarks on his own adventures. Folkloric in sweep and satirical in tone, this hefty novel can be challenging for those lacking a taste for allegory or unfamiliar with modern African politics. The translation, by the author himself from his native Gikuyu, is fluid and manages to convey a vivid sense of African storytelling. Recommended for all collections of literary fiction.-Laurie Sullivan, Sage Group Intl., Nashville Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A sprawling allegory starring an African dictator who isn't having the best of times. As Kenyan novelist-in-exile Ngugi's tale opens, the Ruler of Aburiria has come down with a curious illness. Some of the citizenry hold that a curse involving the anus of a "wronged he-goat" and hair stolen away by the Ruler's barber is to blame; others maintain that the malady "was the sole work of the demons that the Ruler had housed in a special chamber in the State House." Whatever the case, the Ruler is in dire straits. All his grand projects-including vaulting skyscrapers and a personal spaceship-are coming to naught, while the streets of the capital are "lined on either side with mountains of garbage." Humiliated but ever proud, and now exhibiting some very strange symptoms, the Ruler enlists the aid of a sorcerer considered hostile to the regime. The Wizard of the Crow isn't particular. A "first come, first served wizard," a shape-shifter on the run one minute and in league with the secret police the next, he's glad to get the gig. The Wizard has had some successes in the past, dispensing remedies such as "Wash each other, then take turns rubbing oil onto each other." Question is, will the Ruler take his medicine? Meanwhile, there are other issues to confront, including dealing with the Global Bank representative who berates the Ruler for the odd fact that "Aburirian women have started beating up men" while Aburirians of all genders and ages spend most of their time standing in line. Not my fault, says the Ruler: "I am sure that the queuing nonsense is the work of a terrorist dissident movement." Which, of course, is all he needs to say in a war-on-terror world. A remarkable book, sure to bewidely read. Suffice it to say that things don't turn out as the dictator-or we-expected.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400033843
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 784
  • Sales rank: 330,656
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 1.37 (d)

Meet the Author

Ngugi wa Thiong'o is the author of, among other works, Petals of Blood, Weep Not Child, The River Between, A Grain of Wheat, The Devil on the Cross, and Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature, now an essential text in post-colonial studies. Ngugi has argued that English is a "cultural bomb" that continues to erase pre-colonial cultures and history, even as it institutes new and more insiduous forms of colonialism. As Kenyan, he writes in his native Gikuyu, translating his works into English himself.

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Read an Excerpt


There were many theories about the strange illness of the second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria, but the most frequent on people's lips were five.

The illness, so claimed the first, was born of anger that once welled up inside him; and he was so conscious of the danger it posed to his well-being that he tried all he could to rid himself of it by belching after every meal, sometimes counting from one to ten, and other times chanting ka ke ki ko ku aloud. Why these particular syllables, nobody could tell. Still, they conceded that the Ruler had a point. Just as offensive gases of the constipated need to be expelled, thus easing the burden on the tummy, anger in a person also needs a way out to ease the burden on the heart. This Ruler's anger, however, would not go away, and it continued simmering inside till it consumed his heart. This is believed to be the source of the Aburirian saying that ire is more corrosive than fire, for it once eroded the soul of a Ruler.

But when did this anger take root? When snakes first appeared on the national scene? When water in the bowels of the earth turned bitter? Or when he visited America and failed to land an interview with Global Network News on its famous program Meet the Global Mighty? It is said that when he was told that he could not be granted even a minute on the air, he could hardly believe his ears or even understand what they were talking about, knowing that in his country he was always on TV; his every moment—eating, shitting, sneezing, or blowing his nose—captured on camera. Even his yawns were news because, whether triggered by boredom, fatigue, hunger, or thirst, they were often followed by some national drama: his enemies were lashed in the public square with a sjambok, whole villages were blown to bits or people were pierced to death by a bows-and-arrows squad, their carcasses left in the open as food for hyenas and vultures.

It is said that he was especially skillful in creating and nursing conflicts among Aburirian families, for scenes of sorrow were what assuaged him and made him sleep soundly. But nothing, it seemed, would now temper his anger.

Could anger, however deeply felt, cause a mystery illness that defied all logic and medical expertise?


The second theory was that the illness was a curse from the cry of a wronged he-goat. It is said that some elders, deeply troubled by the sight of blood flooding the land, decided to treat this evil as they had epidemics that threatened the survival of the community in the olden days: but instead of burying the evil inside the belly of a beast by inserting flies, standing for the epidemic, into its anus, they would insert the Ruler's hair, standing for the evil, into the belly of a he-goat through its mouth. The evil-carrying goat, standing for the Ruler, would then become an outcast in the land, to be driven out of any region where its cry announced its evil presence.

Led by a medicine man, they mixed the hair, obtained secretly from the Ruler's barber, with grass, salt, and magic potions and gave it to the goat to swallow. Needle and thread in hand, the medicine man started sewing the seven orifices of the body beginning with the anus. The struggling he-goat gave out a bloodcurdling cry and, before the medicine man could seal its mouth, it escaped. It is said that it cried grief across the land, until the Ruler heard the cry and, learning about the curse, which he imagined to be a call for a coup, sent soldiers to hunt down the he-goat and all involved. Rumor has it that the goat, the barber, the medicine man, the elders, and even the soldiers were given over to the crocodiles of the Red River to ensure eternal silence about the curse. And it was to mark this day of his deliverance that the Ruler had the picture of the Red River added to Buri notes, the only picture besides his own to honor the Aburirian currency.

Still, he worried about the fact that the goat had a beard, and he secretly consulted an oracle in a neighboring country, who assured him that only a bearded spirit could seriously threaten his rule. Though he read this as meaning that no human could overthrow him, for, since they had no bodily form, spirits could never grow beards, he became sensitive to beards and then decreed what came to be known as the Law of the Beard, that all goats and humans must have their beards shaved off.

There are some who dispute the story of the bearded he-goat and even argue that the Law of the Beard applied only to soldiers, policemen, civil servants, and politicians, and that the herdsmen shaved their he-goats out of their own volition, shaving goats' beards then being the fashion among Aburirian herdsmen.

These skeptics wondered: what has the cry of a he-goat whose anus, ears, and nose being sealed, have to do with the strange illness that befell the Ruler?


Others now came up with a third theory, which said that since nothing lasts forever, the illness had something to do with the aging of his rule: he had sat on the throne so long that even he could not remember when his reign began. His rule had no beginning and no end; and judging from the facts one may well believe the claim. Children had been born and had given birth to others and those others to others and so on, and his rule had survived all the generations. So that when some people heard that before him there had been a first Ruler, preceded by a succession of governors and sultans all the way from the eras of the Arabs, the Turks, the Italians, to that of the British, they would simply shake their heads in disbelief saying, no, no, those are just the tales of a daydreamer: Aburiria had never had and could never have another ruler, because had not this man's reign begun before the world began and would end only after the world has ended? Although even that surmise was shot through with doubts, for how can the world come to an end?


The fourth theory asserted that his illness had its origins in all the tears, unshed, that Rachael, his legal wife, had locked up inside her soul after her fall from his grace.

The Ruler and his wife had fallen out one day when Rachael asked questions about the schoolgirls who, rumors claimed, were often invited to the State House to make his bed, where he, like the aging white man of the popular saying, fed on spring chicken. Of course, the Ruler would never admit to aging, but he had no problems with the "white man" comparison, and so he amended the proverb to say that a white man renews his youth with spring chicken. Imagine how he must have felt about Rachael's attempt to deny him his fountains of youth! How indiscreet and indecorous of her to ask the unaskable! Since when could a male, let alone a Ruler, be denied the right to feel his way around women's thighs, whether other men's wives or schoolgirls? What figure of a Ruler would he cut were he to renounce his right to husband all women in the land in the manner of the lords of Old Europe, whose droits de seigneur gave them the right to every bride-to-be?

Rachael thought she was being reasonable. I know you take the title Father of the Nation seriously, she told him. You know that I have not complained about all those women who make beds for you, no matter how many children you sire with them. But why schoolgirls? Are they not as young as the children you have fathered? Are they not really our children? You father them today and tomorrow you turn them into wives? Have you no tears of concern for our tomorrow?

They were dining in the State House, and to Rachael the evening was very special because it was the first time in a long while that they were alone together: the burdens of presiding over the nation hardly ever gave them time to share meals and engage in husband-and-wife talk. Rachael believed in the saying that clothes maketh a woman, and that night she had taken particular care with her appearance: a white cotton dress with a V-shaped collar, short sleeves pleated at the edges, a necklace highlighting her slender neck, rings on her fingers, and dangling from her elegant ears, diamonds sparkling all about her.

We can very well imagine the scene. Guiding his fork unerringly toward his lips, the Ruler was about to place a morsel of chicken into his mouth, when suddenly, at Rachael's words, the fork froze in midair; slowly, he lowered the fork to the plate, the piece of chicken still on it, took the napkin and wiped his lips with deliberation. Before replacing the napkin on the table, he turned to his wife and asked: Rachael, did I really hear you say that I have been forcing myself on schoolchildren? That I don't cry over our tomorrow? Have you ever heard of a Ruler who cries, except maybe, well, never mind him, and where did those daily tears of a grown man lead him? He lost his throne. Do you want me to end up as he did?

There is always a difference between a thought and its description: what the Ruler had been dwelling on when lowering the fork to the table and wiping his lips with a corner of the napkin was not the fate of a Ruler who wept and so lost his throne but rather what he would have to do to make Rachael understand that he, the Ruler, had power, real power over everything including . . . yes . . . Time. He shuddered at the thought. Even before the shuddering completed its course, he had made up his mind.

Speaking with studied calm, a faint smile on his face, he told Rachael that the unfinished meal would be their last supper together, that he would go away to give her time to think about the implications of her allegations, and since she would need space to think, he would bring to pass what had been written in the scriptures: In My Father's House Are Many Mansions. Even for sinners.

He built her a house on a seven-acre plot that he surrounded with a stone wall and an electric fence, and it was while contemplating the unbreachable walls that the idea of a building that reached . . . but we shall talk about that later, because the idea was given expression by one of his most faithful and adoring ministers. What was undisputedly the product of his own genius, in its conception and execution, was the construction of Rachael's mansion.

All the clocks in the house were frozen at the second, the minute, and the hour that she had raised the question of schoolgirls; the calendars pointed to the day and the year. The clocks tick-tocked but their hands did not move. The mechanical calendar always flipped to the same date. The food provided was the same as at the last supper, the clothes the same as she had worn that night. The bedding and curtains were identical to those where she had once lived. The television and radio kept repeating programs that were on during the last supper. Everything in the new mansion reproduced the exact same moment.

A record player was programmed to play only one hymn:

Our Lord will come back one day

He will take us to his home above

I will then know how much he loves me

Whenever he comes back

And when he comes back

You the wicked will be left behind

Moaning your wicked deeds

Whenever our Lord comes back

The idea of the endless repetition of this hymn pleased him so much that he had amplifiers placed at the four corners of the seven-acre plantation so that passersby and even others would benefit from the tune and the words.

Rachael would remain thus, awaiting his second coming, and on that day when he found that she had shed all the tears for all the tomorrows of all the children she had accused him of abusing, he would take her back to restart life exactly from where it had stopped, or rather Rachael would resume her life, which had been marking time, like a cinematic frame on pause. I am your beginning and your end.

What were you before I made you my wife? he asked, and answered himself, A primary school teacher. I am the past and the present you have been and I am your tomorrow take it or leave it, he added in English as he turned his back on her.

There was only one entrance to the seven-acre prison. An armed guard was stationed at the stone gate to make sure that she neither left or received visitors except officials who replenished supplies and doubled as spies, or else her children.

Her children? Apart from the numberless others he begot upon his bed-makers, the Ruler had four boys with Rachael. They were not the brightest in their class, and he had taken them out of school before they had obtained their high school diplomas. He enlisted them in the army—to learn on the job—where they quickly rose to the highest ranks. At the beginning of their mother's frozen present, the firstborn, Rueben Kucera, was a three-star general in the army; the second, Samwel Moya, a two-star general in the air force; the third, Dickens Soi, a one-star general in the navy; and the fourth, Richard Runyenje, an army captain. But apart from their military duties they were all on the board of directors of several parastatals closely linked to foreign companies, particularly those involved in the exploration of oil and the mining of precious metals. They were also on several licensing boards. Their main task was to sniff out any anti-government plots in the three branches of the armed forces, as well as to receive bribes. The only problem was that the four were so partial to alcohol and drugs that it was difficult for them to keep up with whatever was happening in the armed forces or on the boards over which they sat. The Ruler was rather disappointed, for he had hoped that at least one of his sons with Rachael might inherit the throne, establishing a mighty family dynasty, and so he often scolded them for their lack of ambition and appetite for power. Yet on the days when they brought him their collections, there was the celebratory atmosphere of a family reunion.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2006

    Ngugi's Best Novel!

    I was first introduced to Ngugi's novels in my African literature class when I was an undergrad. My mentor, Peter Nazareth, who also teaches an incredible course on Elvis Presley, went to college with Ngugi in Uganda and postgraduate school in Leeds, England. The only writer from Africa I'd read up until that course was Achebe, but there are so many truly amazing novels by Africans out there that most Americans simply don't know about--a whole literature that goes far beyond Things Fall Apart: The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Armah, Maru by Bessie Head, A Season of Migration to the North by Salih, The Famished Road by Okri, The Palm-Wine Drunkard by Tutuola, The Book of Secrets by Vassanji, Nehanda by Vera, A Walk in the Night by La Guma, The General Is Up by my mentor Peter Nazareth, and on and on. The best storyteller among them all, however, I must say, in my own opinion, is Ngugi wa Thiong'o. From his first works on up, they've just been better and better. A Grain of Wheat was the first I read, all about England giving up colonial power over Kenya, the Mau Mau movement, and Gikuyu culture. Another of his novels I love and have read several times is Devil on the Cross. He was detained by the Kenyan government in the late seventies after his novel Petals of Blood sparked the popular imagination and made him a threat to the regime. While in detention, he wrote Devil on the Cross, I'm told partly on toilet paper as it was all there was to write upon. Soaring with magic realism, it gives a mythic, moral critique of the Kenya he was experiencing. It's one of the great books I've read. And until this summer, it was my favorite of his works. His latest book is Wizard of the Crow and I literally don't have the skills to convey how great it is. It's been awhile since he published a novel. His last novel before this was Matigari, which he wrote in 1983-84, first in Gikuyu and then translated it himself into English (as he'd done with Devil on the Cross). Over twenty years, then, since he finished his last novel. As it's published, it's 766 pages long, his longest work. And, I have to say, it is his best. It is the kind of story that cannot be written quickly, it's scope encompassing much more than most novels do. This was a book that demanded incubation. Wizard of the Crow isn't so much an African novel as it is a novel that explores Africa in a global context. It focuses on a fictitious country called Aburiria, which is controlled by a dictator called The Ruler. He's completely bonkers, and it isn't hard for me to see Idi Amin in this leader--the Ngatho - Acknowledgments at the end also point back to the Moi dictatorship of Kenya. But he, and his cabinet (with men who've undergone impossible plastic surgeries in Europe to have lightbulb-sized eyes and forearm-length ears--so as to be the eyes and ears of the country), aren't the only villains in this book. There's also the greedy businessmen and the Global Bank, who come to consider giving The Ruler money to build his very own tower of Babel so that he can speak to God every morning. On top of that, the country's money is cursed, giving off an overpowering stench to those people sensitive enough to such things as corruption, greed, and evil. There are good guys, too, though. Of course there are. Ngugi isn't one of those writers who turns his back on hope. Kamiti is a young man, educated postgrad in India, who has been homeless and unemployed for several years after graduating--no one in Aburiria will hire him. He falls into his role as the Wizard of the Crow after pulling a prank to get a cop off his tail. He doesn't believe the mumbo jumbo he speaks, but everyone around hears of his powers and believes he's a healer and incredible sorcerer. Nyawira is a young woman he meets and the two of them develop an intense bond. She's tough, secretly being one of the top members of an underground movement that is against The Ruler and his barbaric administration. She also, i

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 8, 2010

    Funny, irreverant look at human nature!

    Wonderful story reminiscent of "Confederacy of Dunces" African style.

    It clearly demonstrates, that in spite of our best efforts to mess everything up, we somehow go on.

    Having said that, the quality of the upload was atrocious. I'm have no idea the correct spelling of the main characters; it changes from page to page.

    Please be sure to proof these before you make them available for sale.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 6, 2008

    Best Novel Ever!!

    This novel has it all, great characters (male and female), a heavy, fast moving plot, African politics, strange magic. Excellent work.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 2, 2007

    true african literature.

    its a landmark strugle for two giants one held by the public out of freeless opinion, and the other struggling hard to maintain his hard grip. in a society where one man equates himself to a god, the battle rages on over who to have acting space. its a humorous thriller, a comedy of the african tragedy.

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