Wrestling with the Devil is such a necessary read. It’s in no shape or form an easy read though. You may actually want to put it down and forget about it, pretend you never picked it up. I admit that I wanted to a few times, mainly because I felt consumed by guilt. It’s not the first time that I feel guilty. I feel guilty a lot, guilty about a lot of things my ancestors have done to others, how as white colonial powers we created a world of hierarchy where we subjected others to discrimination, oppression, slavery, torture, famine, and often brutal death. It’s a necessary guilt, it teaches us to fight for change. While I was reading through Wrestling with the Devil one thought kept reoccurring in my mind... After WW2 the western world acted shocked about the absolute horrors of the Holocaust, never again we said, but at the same time we were just as brutal in the countries that we colonized! Even up until the 1960’s if not later. The hypocrisy of it all is lodged in my throat, it hasn’t gone unnoticed. (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o actually does bring up the Hitler comparison about a quarter into his memoir, rightly so).
Wrestling with the Devil was written in the early 80’s after Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o was in prison for a year, for the “crime” of having written a political play. Detained without trial, kept apart from other political prisoners for certain amounts of time, and away from general population all through-out his incarceration, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o wrote his now acclaimed novel, Devil on a the Cross, on toilet paper in his cell. Wrestling with the Devil recounts his time in prison, how he wrote the book, and how he managed to keep his sanity intact and continue to resist oppression. It’s also a brilliant overview of the oppression endured by the Kenyans during the brutal British rule, and how this oppression led to another kind of oppression once independence was finally gained.
I also love how Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o describes the immense amount of art, culture, and resistance that was forged in the underground and right in front of the British oppressors - and I feel like I really haven’t done anywhere near enough work to learn more about Kenya, her history, and her culture. Something that I shall be rectifying this year!
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o weaves history, politics, social politics, and all kinds of personal anecdotes on life in general in Kenya into his narrative in Wrestling with the Devil, while providing a vivid image of life in prison as a political prisoner who has committed no other crime than that of helping to educate people. This book is an amazing insight into human resilience, how one is able to take a really bad situation (prison) and make it into a work of reflection (and art) in order to maintain ones sense of self, despite outside attempts to destroy ones essence and beliefs.
I’m now adding more of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s work to my must read list this year – his talent and brilliance have captured my heart and my mind.
Wrestling with the Devil will be published on March 6th through The New Press. This is the first time that Wrestling with the Devil is being published in the US. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy!