It’s book club tonight – not the one which meets in Waterstone’s book shop the first Sunday of the month, but the one where we rotate round each other’s homes also once a month on a convenient Wednesday. I have a bit of a reputation, I’m afraid, for not liking or not finishing books… It’s strange, when I was a child I could read anything, and even if I hated it or it was ghastly, I would persevere and read to the end. These days, I’m afraid I do give up – although only after struggling on for some while.
The book this month was written in the 1960’s by a then young author, Ngũgĩ wa Thion, while he was studying in England far away from his native Kenya. He was born in 1938 and after publishing his first novel, Weep Not, Child, he won a scholarship to Leeds University, and it’s there he wrote A Grain of Wheat, which we have been reading.
The book is set in Kenya in the days just before the declaration of independence; it revolves round men who were involved in the Mau Mau rebellion, and the women and others involved with them, including white colonials. The story ranges back over their lives and deals with their fights and imprisonment, their loves and betrayals, and how they come to terms with their own past as well as looking towards what they hope will be a better future.
It is a very complex book and I think it shows that it’s a young writer’s work. Ngũgĩ later edited and changed it and it was republished (which is the edition I have) but it still has that fresh, but naive quality to me. Although his first language is not English, this is the medium in which it’s written, a conscious decision to highlight the fact that the people of Kenya’s own language was subjugated by a foreign tongue. I think it would have been helpful for non-Kenyan readers to have had notes and maybe even footnotes; I was constantly looking up references which did interrupt the flow of the narrative – even though it was worth it to do so and I learned a lot from reading it.
I’m looking forward to our meeting to find out what the others’ opinions are – I know two people didn’t manage to finish it, and one only completed the epic an hour ago! I confess to feeling rather smug, that for once I’m not going to be the apologetic non-finisher!