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Grain of Wheat, A

mugo independence karanja freedom

a novel by Ngugi, published in 1967. Set on the eve of Kenyan independence in 1963, the novel returns to the emergency period of the 1950s. The action centres on Mugo, a farmer; Mumbi and her carpenter husband Gikonyo; John Thompson, a British district officer; and Karanja, who once sympathized with the freedom movement. During preparations for Uhuru Day, it becomes clear how far people's lives and achievements have diverged from the ideals that inspired the dream of self-government. Karanja, as administrative chief of his area, becomes the servant of the British against his own people, rounding up Mau Mau suspects. Gikonyo, placed in a detention camp for his freedom-fighting activities, is unable to bear separation from his wife Mumbi; he forsakes his oath in order to return to her but, discovering that she has had a child by Karanja, he bitterly repudiates her love. Mugo, regarded as the leader of his village, is asked to deliver the main speech at the independence celebrations, in memory of his friend Kihika, a freedom fighter who was hanged by the colonial administrators. Mugo's refusal to make the speech is interpreted as an act of modesty but, on the contrary, he reveals himself as a traitor—the man who betrayed Kihika to his death. The major irony is that independence has left problems unsolved, and has in fact been achieved at the expense of all potential heroes.

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