The Litblog Co-op is pleased to announce its Winter 2007 Read This! Selection: Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o (Pantheon, 2006). The weeks ahead will include a chat with the author and discussion of the novel by members of the LBC.
We will remind you of the other considered titles over the next two days, and have week-long discussions and posts by LBC members taking up the pros and cons of each title. Wizard of the Crow will be discussed the week of February 5, three weeks away, which you gives you plenty of time to find the book, read it, and join the discussion.
Now we present Carrie Frye, who nominated Wizard of the Crow, as she explains why you should Read This!
Appearances can be deceiving, observes a character midway in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s masterful, biting, and very funny novel, Wizard of the Crow.
Indeed, the line could serve as the motto for the “Free Republic of Aburiria,” the fictional African nation in which the novel is set. The country is under the control of a dictator, a man known simply as the Ruler, whose own political career owes something to an ability to dissemble: “He was first widely known during the colonial times for seeming meek and mild-mannered to every white man with whom he came into contact.”
Suffice it to say, the Ruler is neither meek nor mild-mannered, and Wizard of the Crow takes up at a post-colonial time where, having ascended “the mountaintop of power,” the Ruler presides over a topsy-turvy country where nothing is as it seems, a nation where the police are hard to distinguish from the thieves and crippled beggars can run when necessary.
In Wizard of the Crow, statesmanship looks a lot like stage craft. Rallies in support of the Ruler are choreographed with the care and precision of a large-scale theatrical production. However, the novel, instead of fighting the absurdity, revels in it, with story lines rife with mistaken identity, far-fetched coincidence, and characters in disguise (there is even a fake mustache or two).
This is a big, complex book — some 766 pages of story. All I hope to do here is introduce it, and I look forward to discussing it more fully with my LBC comrades — and with other readers — in a few weeks. I first heard of the novel last fall, from a New Yorker review by John Updike. Since nominating the book, Wizard of the Crow has shown up on numerous “best of the year”-type lists (including The Washington Post’s). Critical notice is wonderful, yet I worry that a book like Wizard of the Crow — a novel that is long, satirical, and set in a foreign nation that is not Ye Old Picturesque England (three strikes! ) — being more admired than read. And that would be a shame, because Wizard of the Crow is a book that deserves a large audience. I urge you to pick it up and read it.