Weep Not, Child - Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Publisher: East African Educational Publishers
Release Date: 1964
Genre: Political / Historical Fiction
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
Tells the moving story about the effects of the Mau Mau war on the lives of ordinary men and women in Kenya. In the forests, the Mau Mau are waging war against the white government, and two brothers, Kamau and Njoroge, and the rest of the family must decide where their loyalties lie. (Source: Goodreads)
I have been averse to anything Ngugi for such a long time. I’ve always found him too political and too critical of Kenya that I blocked my mind, heart, eyes and soul to anything he has ever written. I didn’t agree with his political stance and what I felt was untoward criticism from a once insider who is now an outsider looking in and tearing everything apart from the comfort of the West, without having to live our reality. Yes, I felt strongly towards him.
My views were however challenged by Rugara (a fellow book club member) and Peter Kimani (author of Dance of the Jakaranda) who separately on different occasions challenged my biases towards Ngugi. How can I judge so harshly when I have never read his works? Why would I let my misguided preconceived notions of him deny me the joy that are his books? So I decided to give it a try and I am glad I did because this book, simple as it appears, even going by the Goodreads blurb, is so weighty and tells a deep story of Kenya and Kenyans during the struggle and clamour for independence and the best part, not from a state point of view but from a familial point of view, which makes it all the more relatable and conscientious.
‘Weep Not, Child’ tells the story of real people and real families and how they were affected by the struggle for independence. Njoroge is coming of age in colonial Kenya. As a young boy, he is convicted that Education is the key to liberating his country and so when he gets an opportunity to go to school, he is thrilled. He immerses himself in his studies and excels. He moves on to secondary school and we follow him as he evolves into a religious young man, putting his faith for the country in God and educated men like him. Towards the end, and following events that happen to him and to his family, Njoroge loses hope in everything and contemplates suicide. Njoroge’s life is a depiction of so many Kenyans hopes and shattering of that hope during the Mau Mau struggle.
We get to meet Njoroge’s family – his father Ngotho and his two wives Nyokabi and Njeri and 4 brothers (Mwangi - who was killed during WWII, Boro, Kamau and Kori) and some nameless sisters, though they don’t really play a role in the book
I have seen reviews bashing Ngugi’s lack of character development, I however beg to differ, each of these characters were well developed and represented the different players in Kenya’s struggle. Ngotho represents an older generation that was conflicted and disillusioned about losing their ancestral land – they suffered a loss of identity and were reduced to beggars on their own land. Mwangi represents a stolen generation of Africans who were shipped off to fight the White man’s war without knowing why or what cause they were fighting for! They never came back.
Boro represents the younger radical generation, angry at their elders for allowing the white man to occupy their land with no resistance. This radical generation was ready to fight and die reclaiming what had been stolen and resulted in Guerrilla tactics to retake by force what was theirs. Kamau represents the silent generation – quietly doing their part in the struggle and trying to hold their families together as they advance the cause. Njoroge was the younger generation – firmly believing that they are the ones to liberate the country with education and religion. Removed from the struggle but watching and living through it.
Jacobo, a landowner, collaborator and chief represents the faction that was used by the Colonisers to derail the cause. To pit Africans against each other and thwart any efforts of self-rule and independence. This crop was all too grateful to receive the chaff from the white man and maintain the status quo. It’s no surprise that even the White man they were sucking up to looked upon them with disdain.
The background of the war provides great context for the struggle – the African who participated in the war and came back, came back angry but with a new realisation that the white man is not immortal, that he too could die. Angry that they had been made to fight in a war that they knew nothing about and had no interest in, all the while, the white man was dispossessing them of their land at home.
The novel ends with Njoroge almost attempting suicide and feeling hopeless; and that is exactly how I felt as well. It must have taken a lot of strength and will to keep on fighting even when all the odds are stacked against you. This is such an important book for Kenya and Africa. It brought home the reality that so many families were torn apart during the struggle, thousands and thousands of people died and so many people felt hopeless with the situation.
I could go on and on and on about this book but I will conclude by saying I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to get my hands on the next one.