Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
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Ngotho is challenged by an older son to take a stand against his employer and participate in the nationwide strike against white rule, subsistence wages, and laws designed by the colonialists to restrict most black Kenyans from advancement. The strike is brutally repressed, and Ngotho and his family suffer as a result. The failure of the strike leads to the Mau Mau uprising, in which nationalists commit acts of violence against colonialists, and black Kenyans who do not agree with their oath of loyalty. Njoroge is caught in the middle of the struggle, as he does not take the oath of loyalty but is opposed to colonialists and the natives that benefit from their rule. His older brothers join the freedom fighters, as the conflict
threatens the lives Njoroge and the other members of his family, and he is forced to decide whether to continue with his education or take a stand with or against his brothers and his father.
Weep Not, Child is a superb first novel, as Ngũgĩ convincingly places the reader amidst the difficult decisions and violence that many ordinary Kenyans faced during the early days of the independence movement. I would have enjoyed this novel more if some of the key supporting characters had been better developed, but this is a minor criticism of this highly recommended book.
Weep Not, Child is the coming of age story of a young man named Njoroge, whose promising future is threatened by civil unrest that brings divisions within his own community and family.
The setting is the author's native Kenya during the 1950s at a time when the native African population was pressing for equality and eventual independence from the British colonial overlords. At the beginning of the novel there is talk of a general strike to protest the low wages for African workers. When this is put down, guerrilla warfare gradually develops, and the uprising becomes known as the Mau Mau Rebellion.
As the more prosperous black families side with the white government, communities are torn apart. Njoroge and his childhood friend Mwikaki, his landlord's daughter, find themselves on the opposite side of the dispute in the manner of a Romeo and Juliet. And when his elders are implicated in the Mau Mau movement, Njoroge's cherished hopes for an education are threatened.
Weep Not, Child is a rather grim story of the fragility of the individual confronted with entrenched powers and prejudices. In some situations it is impossible to be simply an innocent bystander. One thing that surprised me in this novel was the impact of World War II on East Africa. Apparently the casualty rates among Kenyan soldiers serving in the British army were so excessive as to be a major cause of resentment in the post-war years, while military service gave a generation of Kenyans the training and confidence they needed to rise up against the British.
This is a powerful and memorable novel. My only criticism would be that it rushes too quickly through so many events, telling a story in fewer than 150 pages that should have warranted a fuller treatment.
In his first novel, Ngũgĩ tells the story of a village boy, Njoroge, hungry for education, growing up at the time of the fight for independence from the British known by the Kenyans as "the Emergency" and by the British as the "Mau Mau rebellion." Through the different members of his family and their histories (in which some of them were forced to fight for the British during the second world war) and their relationships with a neighboring African who has ingratiated himself with the British rulers and the main British farmer in the area who owns land that used to belong to Njoroge's family, the conflicts of the time emerge, as well as Njoroge's own intellectual and psychological development. This brief novel, although a little schematic at times, and not as complex as Ngũgĩ's later work, nevertheless paints a moving and powerful portrait of a time, a place, and a young person who may in some respects resemble Ngũgĩ himself.