Literary Saloon
Site of Review.

Trying to meet all your book preview and review needs.

the Best
the Rest
Review Index



to e-mail us:

support the site

In Association with Amazon.com

In association with Amazon.com - UK

In association with Amazon.ca - Canada


the Complete Review

A Literary Saloon and Site of Review

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
at the
complete review:

biographical | bibliography | quotes | pros/cons | our opinion | links


Name: NGŨGĨ wa Thiong'o
Nationality: Kenyan
Born: 5 January 1938
Awards: Premio Nonino (2001)
Fonlon-Nichols Award (2004)

  • Wrote and published his first books under his 'Christian' name, James Ngugi
  • Writes in both Gikuyu and English
  • Has B.A.s from Makerere University (1963) and the University of Leeds (1964)
  • Awarded numerous honorary doctorates

Return to top of page.


Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

  • The Black Hermit - drama, 1962
  • Weep Not, Child - novel, 1964
  • The River Between - novel, 1965
  • A Grain of Wheat - novel, 1967
  • This Time Tomorrow: Three Plays - drama, 1970
  • Homecoming - essays, 1972
  • Secret Lives - stories, 1975
  • The Trial of Dedan Kimathi - drama, 1976 (with Micere Githae-Mugo)
  • Petals of Blood - novel, 1977
  • Devil on the Cross - novel, 1980 (Caitaani Mutharaba-ini, Eng. 1982)
  • I Will Marry When I Want - drama, 1980 (Ngaahika Ndeenda: Ithaako ria Ngerekano, with Ngugi wa Mirii; Eng. 1982)
  • Detained: A Writer's Prison Diary - diary, 1981
  • Writers in Politics - non-fiction, 1981; rev. 1997
  • Maitu njugira - drama, 1981
  • Njamba Nene and the Flying Bus - children's fiction, 1982 (Njamba Nene na Mbaathi i Mathagu, Eng. 1986)
  • Barrel of a Pen: Resistance to Repression in Neo-Colonial Kenya - non-fiction, 1983
  • Njamba Nene's Pistol - children's fiction, 1984 (Bathitoora ya Njamba Nene, Eng. 1986)
  • Decolonising the Mind - non-fiction, 1986
  • Matigari - novel, 1986 (Matigari ma Njiruungi, Eng. 1989)
  • Writing Against Neocolonialism - non-fiction, 1986
  • Njamba Nene and the Cruel Chief - children's fiction, 1986 (Njamba Nene na Chibu King'ang'i, Eng.1988)
  • Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedoms - non-fiction, 1993
  • Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams: Towards a Critical Theory of the Arts and the State in Africa - non-fiction, 1998
  • Wizard of the Crow - novel, 2004 (Mũrogi wa Kagogo, Eng. 2006)
  • Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance - non-fiction, 2009
  • Dreams in a Time of War - memoir, 2010
  • Globalectics: Theory and the Politics of Knowing - non-fiction, 2012
  • In the House of the Interpreter - memoir, 2012
  • Birth of a Dream Weaver - memoir, 2016
  • The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gĩkũyũ and Mũmbi - epic, 2018 (Kenda Mũiyũru, Eng. 2020)

Please note that this bibliography is not necessarily complete.
Dates given are of first publication.

Return to top of page.


What others have to
say about
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o:

  • "Mr Ngugi, a Kenyan, is immune to the fashionable trivialities of academic criticism. For him the bearing of a book towards society, the capacity it may lend us to cut down oppression, is all important. His comments on Achebe, Soyinka and Naipaul are, accordingly, the most valuable I've seen. (...) His study of the Mau Mau Emergency, A Grain of Wheat, is arguably the best, and certainly the most underrated, novel to come from Black Africa." - Angus Calder, New Statesman (20/10/1972)

  • "The novels of Ngugi wa Thiong'o (James Ngugi) have traced a progressive disillusionment with the idea of education as an adequate basis for national leadership or self-liberation." - Gerald H. Moore, Times Literary Supplement (3/11/1972)

  • "(T)he life and work of Ngugi provide an excellent starting point for people who wish to achieve some awareness of the many inter-related dilemmas -- cultural, political, linguistic, developmental -- that beset an entire continent of people and yet remain obscure even for the vast majority of educated Americans. In fact, Ngugi -- the author of 19 books of fiction, nonfiction, drama, and children's literature -- is as important today as any other single literary figure in understanding the problems of post, colonial Africa." - Theodore Pelton, The Humanist (3-4/1993)

  • "In his crowded career and eventful life, Ngugi has enacted, for all to see, the paradigmatic trials and quandaries of a contemporary African writer, caught in sometimes implacable political, social, racial, and linguistic currents." - John Updike, The New Yorker (31/7/2006)

  • "Ngugi is one of Africa's greatest writers, and certainly the foremost voice of Kenyan literature, but unlike his Nigerian counterpart Wole Soyinka, he has been somewhat ignored by readers outside of Africa. Like that of so many other African writers, Ngugi's work was critical of the direction his nation took after the exit of colonial powers, and this led to his detention and eventual self-exile from Kenya" - David Hellman, San Francisco Chronicle (13/8/2006)

  • "The stories about Ngugi have always competed for attention with the stories he writes. (...) Ngugi has long dwelt in the overlapping territories of reality and fiction, where he has attempted to overcome the deprivations of the first with the powers of the second." - Randy Boyagoda, Harpers (9/2006)

Return to top of page.

Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Powerful anti-colonial voice
  • Strong stylist
  • Significant as novelist, playwright, and public intellectual
  • Strong support of writing in African languages (and has written numerous works in Gikuyu)

  • Angry Marxist politics creep a bit far into some of his work
  • Older works can feel somewhat dated

Return to top of page.

the complete review's Opinion

     One of the grand old men of African literature, Ngũgĩ's fiction is sometimes overshadowed by his engagement for African culture (and, especially, writing in pre-colonial African languages) as well as his powerful memoirs. It's a shame, because he is has written several novels that rank among the most significant in modern African literature; two were selected as being among 'Africa's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century', and Wizard of the Crow is certainly among the best of the 21st so far.
     While the earlier novels deal with political struggles that one may want to consider past now, they are still worth returning to. The more recent non-fiction, along with Wizard of the Crow, certainly show Ngũgĩ is still an important voice in more contemporary debates about African politics and culture.

Return to top of page.


Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: Pieces by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o available online Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's books at the complete review: See also:

Return to top of page.

© 2010-2022 the complete review

Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links