Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Wizard and the Crow
The book The Wizard of the Crow by novelist and playwright Ngugi wa Thiong'o, is a kind of modern day Frank Capra film set in the imaginary African country of Aburiria. There is a delusional, hubristic ruler with a Yertle The Turtle complex, schemers with all kinds of official titles, a group of rebels plotting an overthrow, yes men devoted to their rulers glory, an greedy Global Bank, men who have plastic surgery to keep their ruler's enemies under surveillance, corruption, poverty and a reluctant everyman hero who happens to be an unemployed wizard that found his powers in a trash heap.
This fanciful, satirical novel is a heavily populated adventure through politics. The Ruler (we never learn his name) longs for the good old days of the Cold War when he could pit superpowers against one another to increase his personal coffers. Now no one seems to need him and a mysterious illness is making fatter and fatter. The novel gets started when the Ruler decides that what needs to happen to maintain his status and respect is to build the tallest building in Africa. Opportunists and government ministers fall out of the woodwork to make this happen. At the same time a young job seeker named Kamiti accidental joins a demonstration against the Global Bank's financing of the skyscraper by the rebels of The Movement of the People and ends up in hiding. In an attempt to confound and frighten the police Kamiti places a sign in front of his hideout proclaiming that a wizard lives inside. Little does he know how this new title will change his life.
Thiong'o has written an entertaining and worthwhile novel where the self interest of those in charge are pitted against the misery they create. The plot continually swings from absurd to biting then on over to ridiculous but it also hits on all the evils of any society not just those in the third world. There is a very let-me-tell-you-a-story feel to this book. That might come from the authors background as a playwright or the oral storytelling traditions of Kenya. The Wizard of the Crow could have used a little editing, but that said the story was never tedious. It had it's predictable moments but it had plenty of surprises as well.
P.S. I think this cover is great.