Wrestling with the Devil , Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978.Read more...
Wrestling with the Devil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978. In one extended flashback he recalls the night, a year earlier, when armed police pulled him from his home and jailed him in Kenya's Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, one of the largest in Africa. There, he lives in a prison block with eighteen other political prisoners, quarantined from the general prison population.
In a conscious effort to fight back the humiliation and the intended degradation of the spirit, Ngũgĩ--the world-renowned author of Weep Not, Child; Petals of Blood; and Wizard of the Crow--decides to write a novel on toilet paper, the only paper to which he has access, a book that will become his classic, Devil on the Cross.
Written in the early 1980s and never before published in America, Wrestling with the Devil is Ngũgĩ's account of the drama and the challenges of writing the novel under twenty-four-hour surveillance. He captures not only the excruciating pain that comes from being cut off from his wife and children, but also the spirit of defiance that defines hope. Ultimately, Wrestling with the Devil is a testimony to the power of imagination to help humans break free of confinement, which is truly the story of all art.
- ISBN-13: 9781620973332
- ISBN-10: 1620973332
- Publisher: New Press
- Publish Date: March 2018
- Page Count: 272
- Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.8 x 1.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 0.9 pounds
Well Read: Writing as an escape
Prison memoirs tap into our fears and outrage, and in the hands of the best writers, they also educate. Ngũgĩ Wa Thiong’o was imprisoned in his native Kenya in 1977, and while he was never officially charged, his “crime” was daring to write and speak out against the oppressive post-colonial regime. He spent a year in near isolation in Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, and in a sanity-preserving act, he wrote Devil on the Cross, a much-lauded novel, on the only thing available to him—toilet paper. After his release, he was forced into exile. Now 80, he teaches at the University of California, Irvine. His name is often floated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Ngũgĩ wrote Wrestling with the Devil, his account of his year in Kamĩtĩ, in the early 1980s, but remarkably, it is just now being published in the U.S. Compelling and thoughtful, the book is as much a polemic as a memoir, a deeply expressed history of the revolutionary spirit that has been kept alive in Kenya despite political oppression, first under the British and later under post-colonial dictatorships. Within this larger history, Ngũgĩ weaves the rudiments of his own story. When Kenyan authorities deemed Ngũgĩ’s play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want), written as part of a nascent movement to create indigenous theater for Kenyans, too subversive, he was carted off in a Kafkaesque manner and detained without any formal charges. His time in prison was contemplative, and as he worked on his novel furtively (despite near constant surveillance), he also meditated on the faulty expressions of the African experience that permeate so much colonial-era literature, effectively robbing native Africans of their true story, much as the colonists robbed them of their land and dignity.
Ngũgĩ beautifully evokes the realities of being imprisoned physically and politically.
Throughout this classic narrative, Ngũgĩ beautifully evokes the realities of being imprisoned not only within four walls but also within a political reality that is itself a prison: “In the cell, each political prisoner would struggle against mounting despair—the inevitable outcome of bitter reflections churned over and over in the mind. For here one had no helper except one’s own experiences and history. That, I would say, was the real loneliness of prison life. In the silence of one’s cell, one has to fight, all alone, against a thousand demons struggling for the mastery of one’s soul. Their dominant method was to show continually that there was only one way of looking at things, that there was only one history and culture, which moved in circles, so that the beginning and the end were the same.”
Wrestling with the Devil ends with a bit of cat-and-mouse that, with a blend of amusement and bemusement, encapsulates Ngũgĩ’s prison experience. Not long before the writer’s release, the prison warden discovers his toilet-paper manuscript and seizes it. The psychological anguish this confiscation causes Ngũgĩ is palpable—how will he ever reproduce his work? Then, when the manuscript is restored to him, he discovers that only the scraps he had already rejected had been returned. How the full manuscript is discovered in the nick of time, shortly before it literally could have been flushed away, is a serendipitous chapter in literature.