Early short stories by one of Africa’s most esteemed fiction writers.
Long resident in the United States, where he is now Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, Kenya-born Ngugi (Wizard of the Crow, 2006, etc.) began his writing career while still a university student in British-ruled Uganda. The pensive story that opens this collection, “Mugumo,” dates to 1960, describing a woman on the run, going—well, somewhere, anywhere “to get away from the hearth, the courtyard, the huts and the people, away from everything that reminded her of Muhoroini Ridge and its inhabitants.” Her husband has abused her, his other wives are jealous of her, and she is childless, all good reason to flee. But then the rains come, the night fills with ghosts, and she has a life-changing dream that causes her to turn back. To that original story, Ngugi adds two later sections in which a time of rain and flood becomes a time of drought and famine, in which, many years later, the consequences of her choice become clear. Against a backdrop of late British colonialism and the earliest years of independence for Kenya, Ngugi writes of characters whose dreams are too often crushed: A young medical student kills himself after failing an exam, freeing himself from what would appear to have been a curse that renders his intelligence and good looks meaningless; a stern white woman, “having no opinions of her own about anything,” concludes that the Africans around her are "inscrutable,” rationalizing homicide; a churchgoer becomes a church elder and a respected leader only to be thwarted at the altar. Though these stories lack the psychological depth of Ngugi’s later work, they point toward it as well as giving a valuable literary view of African lives in a pivotal, turbulent era.
Of great interest to Ngugi’s many readers as well as students of contemporary African literature and the literature of colonialism and post-colonialism.