My true loves: Wilkie Collins, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anais Nin, George Eliot, James Joyce, James Baldwin, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, bell hooks, Chinua Achebe, Langston Hughes, William Shakespeare... I'm falling for : Italo Calvino, Toni Morrison, Frantz Fanon, Wole Soyinka, Ralph Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston, Albert Camus, Margaret Atwood, Somerset Maugham, Junot Diaz, A.S. Byatt... And the lists continue to grow! I will read almost anything, as long as it's well-written. I always love to expand my reading horizons.
“Where can a person girded with a belt of peace find truth and justice in this world?”- Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Matigari
The story takes place in a newly-independent Kenya. Like in other recently independent countries, their former masters still have a very strong presence and much control. Matigari ma Nijiruungi, whose name means “the patriots who survived the bullets” in Swahili, is a messiah-like figure who has returned from fighting for independence and finds that his country has become corrupt and depraved. Matigari travels with a young Kenyan boy and a Kenyan prostitute while trying to find truth and justice, and take back what he believes is rightfully his. Due to several near escapes, Matigari’s image becomes more and more mythologized as the story goes on:
“Who is Matigari? they asked one another. How on earth are we going to recognise him? What does he look like? What nationality is he? Is Matigari a man or woman anyway? Is he young or old? Is he fat or thin? Is he real or just a figment of people’s imagination? Who or what really is Matigari ma Nijiruungi? Is he a person, or is it a spirit?”
I’m fascinated by post-colonial Africa and all the political intrigue that happened afterwards. It’s quite disappointing that so much corruption happened, dictators were born and so on even though the people had so much hope for the future. Despite wanting the colonialists out of their countries, many decided that the colonialists’ ways were far superior to their own culture. wa Thiong’o calls them “sell-outs.”
The sociologist in me couldn’t help but be intrigued by the discussion about the differences between the collectivist (African) and the individualist (Western) cultures:
“White people are advanced because they respect that word (“individual”), and therefore honour the freedom of the individual…But you black people? You walk about fettered to your clans, nationalities, people, masses. If the individual decides to move ahead, he is pulled back by the others.”
In an undergrad sociology class I learned that the British colonizers introduced a hut and poll tax to Kenya. Most Kenyans didn’t use money back then, so how were they ever meant to pay their taxes? By working for their masters almost as slaves. The British now had lots of cheap labour with which to produce cash crops. Despite all the hard work the Kenyans put in, they had nothing to show for it and still lived in poverty. As wa Thiong’o laments:
“The house is mine because I built it. The land is mine too because I tilled it with these hands. The industries are mine because my labour built and worked them. I shall never stop struggling for all the products of my sweat.”
Despite the heavy subject matter, or perhaps because of it, the tone of this book was quite satirical. Throughout the book it’s hard to miss the Christianity allegory. It is done quite cleverly, reminded me a bit of The Master and the Margarita.