I found this story to be very reminiscent of one of my favourite books, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as both stories deal with the turmoil, changes and confusion that arose in Africa after Christianity was introduced. In The River Between, two communities of Kikuyu (a Kenyan ethnic group), one Christian, the other traditional, struggle as the Christian group tries to outlaw female circumcision, which they believe to be a pagan practice, while the traditionals being distrustful of the “white man’s religion”, feel that circumcision is an important part of their culture and struggle to continue with their practice. The protagonist, Waiyaki, is caught between his destiny as the direct descendant of an African seer who supposedly foresaw the arrival of the white man, a “people with clothes like butterflies,” and who must therefore lead the village, as well as being a young man who obtained education from the missionaries, and is in love with Nyambura, the Christian daughter of Joshua, the Kikuyu pastor.
I liked the book a lot. Like African society in general, I found the story to have lots of patriarchal elements. First of all, there was the issue of the practice of female circumcision. Second, the female characters in the story barely had a voice, and were left out of political and economic matters, causing them to be the most vulnerable members in the society. What I also found interesting was the struggle between the traditional and the modern, something that is very difficult to be overcome.