Friday, January 21, 2011

Book Review; The River Between by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Ngugi wa Thiong'o
Title: The River Between (School Edition)
Author: Ngugi wa Thiong’o
Publisher: East African Educational Publishers Ltd, 2009 (first 1965)
Genre: Fictional (Literature)
Pages: 148
Reviewer: Manuel Odeny

Waiyaki, the story’s protagonist while standing on God’s hill overlooking Mount Kirinyaga next to Kikuyu’s holy tree, the Mugumo, sees the expense ridges and valleys lying like dormant lions waiting re-awakening.
This tranquility is shattered with British colonials who bring change that places the society in a cultural dilemma of enlightenment or going back to ancestral roots, this theme of change is core in this Ngugi’s first book.
The author Ngugi wa Thiong’o skillfully narrates the effect of change through two opposing ridges which face each other like angry fighters before a clash. The first and greater is Kameno which is home to the great seer Mugo wa Kibiro who prophesized the coming of white men. Waiyaki and his father Chege are direct descendants of Mugo from this ridge.
Its rival, Makuyu embraces Christianity and white man’s way of life as lead by an overzealous preacher Joshua.
In this life and death struggle for leadership and supremacy there is a river between the two ridges defying the season of time and change. Representing the continuity of life the river between is Hanoi which Ngugi gives the book its title.
In the story, Waiyaki becomes an African elite after acquiring the white man’s education in the missionary schools which he tries to impart to the society to counter the encroachment of the white man. Makuyu’s ridge overzealous Christianity and Kameno’s conservative tribal purity of folk tradition threatens to destroy the society unity.
The author gives hope in this quagmire as the rift between the two ridges widen as the book ends in a love story. Waiyaki bound by an oath to safeguard conservative way in Kameno marries Nyambura, an impure uncircumcised girl from Makuyu whose father Joshua leads the Christians.
Meditating quietly in God’s hill after making a choice to marry Nyambura, Waiyaki observes change in the society;
“Circumcision of women was not important as a physical operation; it was what it did inside a person. It could not be stopped overnight. Patience and, above all, education, were needed. If the white man’s religion made you abandon a custom and then did not give you something else of equal value, you become lost. An attempt at resolution of the conflict would only kill you.”
This attempt makes Waiyaki to be betrayed by his two childhood friends Kinuthia and Kamau, and the all society.
The River Between is Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s first novel written in 1961 while he was a second year student in Makerere University College, Kampala Uganda, at the age of 23 years. Although published four years later after Weep Not Child (1964, Heinemann) it established Ngugi as a prolific writer.
The clarity of prose, the simple and powerful words he uses gives him magnetism as a narrator giving the reader a mirror to check the society through the novel’s characters.
This school edition which the author has changed some lines and phrases is a high school set book in Kenya. Writing the preface of the book from Irvine California where he is a don the author hopes the book will inspire young readers to write like the same way he felt challenged before independence when there were no African writers.
Ngugi is an author of several plays, essays and novels like Petals of Blood (1977) which caused his detention by the Kenyatta government, Matigari (1987) and wizard of The Crow (2006). His novels A Grain of Wheat (1967) and Devil on The Cross (1982) were voted among AFRICA’S 100 BEST BOOKS of 20th Century.


  1. Great Works!! Jenny Odhiambo

  2. An echelon when it comes to literature. The problem is that he has desisted from writing his works in English but rather his own native Gikuyu.

    God bless Ngugi.

  3. Dear Geff Chereu

    Whatever language he chooses Ngugi is still a good writer, this book was his first and it has proved he was destined for greatness.

  4. One of my favorite books ,I must admit it had shaped my creativity & given my my community history i didn't know...
    Thanks to Ngugi