Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Wizard of the Crow

In the Los Angeles Times, a review of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s new novel, Wizard of the Crow.

NGUGI wa Thiong’o inhabits a world of subtle yet ever-present incongruity. In the mellow light of an early September afternoon, seated in the comfortable living room of his house on the campus of the University of California, Irvine, Kenya’s most widely lauded writer and his wife, Njeeri wa Ngugi, calmly discussed what it was like to be held at gunpoint by thugs, awaiting death. “We narrowly escaped,” Njeeri said.

Outside in the driveway, there was a pile of bikes belonging to their kids. Inside, before Ngugi began to discuss his new epic novel of the African postcolonial experience, “Wizard of the Crow,” his first in 10 years, the couple recounted their ordeal. It happened when they returned to Kenya in 2004, after more than two decades of self-imposed exile — an absence prompted by a personal grudge harbored against the writer by longtime President Daniel Arap Moi.

Ngugi and Njeeri were staying in a high-security apartment complex in Nairobi. Around midnight, four armed gunmen broke in (the children, luckily, were away for the night). “Humiliation was their goal,” said Ngugi, a 68-year-old giant of African literature who has been mentioned as a Nobel Prize contender. “Robbery is a capital offense in Kenya, but these robbers did not wear masks. That suggested that we were not meant to be around later to bear witness against their crimes.”

“We believe we were meant to be eliminated,” Njeeri added. Then she showed the scar in her forearm from the knife wound she received in the attack, during which she was also sexually assaulted and Nugugi was burned with cigarettes. It sounds horrific, but it was motivated by vicious boredom. “They needed something to do while they waited for something else,” Ngugi said. That something else, according to the couple, was murder. The robbers were merely detaining Ngugi and Njeeri until the death squad arrived.