The Flight to Freedom: A Review of Ngugi wa Thiongo’s Wizard of the Crow, translated by the author from Gikuyu (Gikuyu title: Murogi wa Kagogo).
by Meredith Terretta
Most of the reviewers of Ngugi’s latest novel, Wizard of the Crow, corral the book into two major themes they find in its 760 pages. The first exposes corrupt dictators in postcolonial African states who govern through the skillful manipulation of the second — witchcraft and magic as part of a stubbornly “primordial,” “superstitious” Africa refusing to keep up with the pace of modernity. But reviewers, hemmed in by centuries of the West’s misconstrued image of Africa as exotic and introverted, have missed the point Ngugi makes when he describes his book as a “global epic from Africa.” Shift the focus from Africa, and the novel still has plenty to resonate with readers, ranging from the global politics of the Christian right to the extinction of multilingualism. Other universal themes proliferate throughout the novel: women’s agency in political and social activism (present to a degree unprecedented in Ngugi’s fiction), quotidian humor as an act of political resistance, environmentalism, and questions of racial and cultural identity against the backdrop of globalization.
In Wizard of the Crow, the Ruler of the fictive African nation of Aburiria approaches the Global Bank – the god of multi-national corporate capitalism – to borrow funds for his efforts to reach God with a sky-scraper in an official, national project called Marching to Heaven. When the Global Bank and Western leaders seem to balk at financing the Ruler’s grandiose project, the small-time dictator aspires to sell the nation and its people’s labor to global capitalism; he envisions Aburiria as the first corporony – the “corporate colony,” leading the way to the world as “one corporate globe divided into the incorporating and the incorporated.”