Review – Weep Not, Child—Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Article Readability Stats: 511 Words; Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level = 10

This post first appeared on my book blog, Cherry Tree Reads. View it here.

Weep Not, Child is a moving book written by one of Africa’s greatest writers, the Kenyan Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. While this novel–his debut–was first published in English, Ngũgĩ shifted to writing in his native language, Gikuyu, shortly after.

The novel centers on the Mau Mau Uprising of 1952-60. During this movement, Kenyans rose against the British who controlled Kenya as a colony. Since 1920, the colonial rulers had oppressed Kenyans of all ethnicities and held them back from moving up the social classes. Central to this was creating English-style education systems to funnel a few Kenyans into government positions in the Empire. The British then ruled the colony through those workers.

Learning through experience with other colonies, the British divided Kenyans and turned them against each other based on class, ethnicity, and education. This tactic meant that it was difficult or impossible for enough people to turn against the huge power of the colonists. In fact, it was effective at mitigating the strength of the Mau Mau Uprising. It was also effective in other African colonies (although I won’t dive too far into the African independence movements of the 20th century. My most interesting class in college centered on the subject, and it’s left a lasting interest in me).

Ngũgĩ vividly captures both the Mau Mau Uprising and Kenyan life in the 50s. The protagonist, Njoroge, is determined to go through the education system (at the expense of his brother attending). Through school, Njoroge believes he can provide a better life for his family and become rich like Jacobo, the village chief who went to school.

The novel follows Njoroge over the years, providing a lens for Ngũgĩ to illustrate the sentiment in Kenya surrounding the independence movement. Written one year after independence, Ngũgĩ cements the struggles, feelings, and division of Kenyans during the Mau Mau Uprising. Weep Not, Child reads like a harrowing roman-à-clef of Ngũgĩ’s upbringing, as his family had connections with the Mau Mau Uprising.

Weep Not, Child with the other Ngũgĩ novels I own, A Grain of Wheat and The River Between. So far, he has written 8 novels along with many plays, essays, and short stories. He is an advocate of post-colonial “linguistic decolonization”–writing in one’s native language, as opposed to a language forced through colonization.

Weep Not, Child is not long; only about 150 pages, but every page bleeds with emotion. This is a book you could finish in a day not only because of its length, but because Ngũgĩ’s story and his writing style will urge you to keep moving to the next page. This quickly became one of my favorite books since first reading it in 2013. I’ve read it three times since and will continue enjoying it throughout my life.

If you would like to buy this book, please follow this link to my listing on Disclaimer, I will receive a small percentage of any books you buy through my storefront. However, any profits made on the sale are distributed to a pool of independent bookshops. Happy reading!

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