Wizard of the Crow

I was really looking forward to reading this novel. Ngugi wa Thiong'o's aim with this sprawling satire was "to sum up Africa of the twentieth century in the context of two thousand years of world history." Though good, I felt that the execution fell a little flat throughout the book.

Set in the fictional African republic of Aburiria, in Wizard of the Crow the author "set out to explore human relationships against the backdrop of a rapidly globalizing world." Thiong'o, naturally, as an exiled Kenyan, has a long history of political activism.

Although a fictional nation, Aburiria is a satirical depiction of African despotism. A grandiose and grotesque Ruler dominates a corrupt and sycophantic cabinet of ministers, surrounded by venal officials and opportunistic businessmen, all jockeying for position. Part fable, part allegory, Wizard of the Crow is a magical realism parody of the political and social corruption rampant in many African countries. As such, the book represents Thiong'o's reflections on both Africa's numerous dysfunctions and, one can only hope, its myriad possibilities.

Weighin in at 766 pages, Wizard of the Crow is a work of titanic proportions. And its principal shortcoming is that the pace is at times atrociously slow. Which, in the end, killed this novel for me. Too many unnecessary POV characters make for an unbearably sluggish rhythm in several portions of this book. Indeed, I came very close to stop reading on more than one occasions. . . Even though some parts are quite interesting, others bored me out of my mind.

Sections of Wizard of the Crow appear to be undisguised attacks aimed at the dictatorship of Kenya's Daniel arap Moi. Which is not surprising, given the fact that the dictator's regime imprisoned the author in the 70s, banned some of his books, and then forced him into exile, first in Europe and then in the USA. I believe that, in order to fully appreciate/understand Wizard of the Crow, one needs to be familiar with world politics. Leftists will doubtless enjoy it more than their Right-wing counterparts, methinks.

Though Thiong'o is on the money more often than not, I did find some of his political "comments" to be a bit narrow on the ideological side. While I agree that international financial forces can be disruptive with their efforts to engender development (something this continent desperately needs), following decades of economic stagnation in so many African countries I found that the way he depicted market forces more than a little overdone. Given the author's past, tyranny and egomania are themes that Thiong'o explores through the Ruler and his entourage of sycophants.

Wizard of the Crow is an ambitious literary endeavor filled with great ideas. The humor, however, is more intellectual than funny. The political commentary is quite heavy-handed at times, yet that doesn't take too much away from the reading experience. It's the snail-slow pace which makes what could have been an excellent read merely a good one.

The final verdict: 7/10

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