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Review of A Grain of Wheat

Seth Tomko is a writer, college-level educator, and adventurer.

author Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

author Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

Even for readers unfamiliar with the subject matter, A Grain of Wheat makes a great introduction to African Literature.

On its surface, the novel is one of people coming to terms with Kenyan national independence, many realizing they have simply traded one taskmaster for another. Characters like Karanja slowly become disillusioned with the new government when he discovers his own countrymen are just as willing to cheat him as the Europeans were. Likewise, his personal relationships do not improve the way he dreamed they would, as though casting off foreign rule was somehow going to make Mumbi love him.

Kenyan Mystery

One of Ngugi’s most successful elements in making this novel accessible to readers with little or no knowledge of post-colonial African history is to wrap much of the present action in a mystery. The plot centers around the old revolutionaries searching for the man who betrayed their messianic leader, Kihika, to his execution while organizing a rally in his memory as part of the Uhuru celebration.

The atmosphere of a covert fugitive hunt gives A Grain of Wheat a tense feeling that is reflected in the characters but none more so than the keynote speaker and protagonist, Mugo. It is the humble and heroic Mugo, praised for his resistance activities while in a detainment camp, who actually turned in Kihika and has lived with the secret all along. His flashbacks and anxiety over remaining silent build in harmony with the atmospheric tension to pull the reader along regardless of his or her level of knowledge of Africa outside of the text.

Literary Devices

Readers will also get drawn in by Ngugi’s style. Though the subject matter is dense, he freely opens the character’s minds to the reader. Several events from the past are examined in flashback but from the points of view from different characters, giving readers a chance to see how the same situation is interpreted in different ways.

Similarly, there are a few echoing occurrences. For instance, Karanja runs two races, and both of them deal with trying to win Mumbi’s affection. Since the races happen at different points in time, the readers get insight into how much or how little has changed for everyone involved.

cover to an early edition of A Grain of Wheat.

cover to an early edition of A Grain of Wheat.

Sowers of Wheat and Tares

Though a novel loaded with social and political themes, underpinning the whole of A Grain of Wheat is a conflict between religious messages. On the one hand there is the fiery Kihika who sees his revolutionary activities in a distorted Christian light. He feels called to serve the poor and free the oppressed as he learned Jesus Christ was sent to do. Kihika also believes, however, that the Kenyans will never be free unless Europeans are removed from their country by force. Believing God is on his side, Kihika uses religion as a basis for his insurrectionist beliefs.

Mugo, on the other hand, is more traditionally devout and suffers guilt for his act of betrayal where Kihika feels none for the suffering he causes to others in pursuit of a nebulous greater good. In an ironic twist, it is Mugo—with his concern for others and desire for a simple life—who does Judas’s work in A Grain of Wheat.


Thiong'o, Wa Ngugi. A Grain of Wheat. Johannesburg: Heinemann Education, 1967.

© 2009 Seth Tomko


BRIO on March 07, 2016:


Sushmita from Kolkata, India on July 03, 2013:

I definitely liked reading your review, and found it helpful to further reflection, though I do not agree to all the conclusions drawn. To begin with, I did not see Karanja as one of those disillusioned with the Uhuru, I rather think he came out throughout the novel as one of those who remained cloistered and subservient to the colonial forces- he is one of those who are forever abiding to those in power, and probably will do so now for the new corrupt ministers we see in Kenya, on the eve of the Uhuru. His surreptitiously taking advantage of Mumbi is an act of betrayal - to Kihika, to Gikonyo and even to the entire spirit of their friendship. The one and only one who is the redeeming figure, or rather the couple, that are the hope of this Uhuru, however imperfect it may be is the same mythical, couple- Gikonyo and Mumbi.

Having said that, once more I must say that reviewing such text, that is not really considered mainstream in English literature, is a rather good effort- it may highlight such wonderful works as of Ngugi Thiongo. Voting up and sharing too.

teclar mukai on October 22, 2012:

hey that good keep!

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Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 18, 2012:

Thank you, sheey njeha, and I am glad you're enjoying it.

sheey njeha on October 18, 2012:

the novel is very interesting as well as insightful.Am currently reading it as part of my literature books and i have read it three times already.simply mind blowing.

lily on December 23, 2011:

helpful information Mr Satomko.really helpful on my coming exam.God bless u:)

suchithra.k.p on November 30, 2011:

behind every successful revolution there is a story of betrayal........

DOMINIC KIPKIRUI MUTAI on November 29, 2011:

Ngugi wa Thiongo is a good character who normally talks about the importance of African cultures

Ruthie on November 16, 2011:

I have my final exam tomorrow on 'The African Novel' 'A grain of wheat' is amongst the novels I'll be expected to answer a question on,with your review,I sure hope I'll do just fine!

biboka on November 14, 2011:

A grain of wheat is such a wonderful book.I love the fact that it points out to thechallenges faced in our country Kenya.The setting of this book is completely awesome.I love it and i will continue to read it

stacey on November 08, 2011:

wonderful text

A.Vivian on November 06, 2011:

This is one of the best books i have ever read.Such an explicit work.The setting of this book is the best.Ilove it

A.JACKIE on November 06, 2011:

A great piece.I must admit it's a masterpiece.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on October 21, 2011:

Thank you, thandeka meyza, for sharing how this novel has affected you.

thandeka myeza on October 21, 2011:

to be honest and be straight forward with u guys grain of wheat is a very interesting book it has tought me a lot of things since i started reading it infact it has made me realise that cultures are very important and we as african must start to take them seriously so yes thanks to grai of wheat for making me who i am today

nany on April 29, 2011:

thank you stomko for havin read my comment, and I whish to help me and guide me by some links or any thing that could be helpful for me in order to make an expose about "themes through the characters Mugo & Karanja in A Grain of Wheat"

thank you so much for your attention :)

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on April 26, 2011:

I'm glad my review was of some help to you, nany.

nany on April 25, 2011:

I have a presentation about A Grain of Wheat "Main themes through charecters", and I whish to lead and help me to make it as perfect as it must be , for such a writer .. thank you

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on April 04, 2011:

I'm glad you like it, lewis kabz. I agree that it is an amazing piece of literature, and I wish it was taught more frequently.

lewis kabz on April 04, 2011:

currently sitting for this as a course work its fantastick

htodd from United States on March 13, 2011:

Thanks for the info

umeaku pinky on January 18, 2011:

A very interesting novel about kenya and the quest for independence(uhuru).the author creates in the mind of the reader,through the various characters,the suffering n betrayal kenyans went through.its worth reading

benson mugambi on November 24, 2010:

grain of wheat is my primary text right now in the unit literary's very insightful and a must read to everyone who claims to be an endowed currently a forth year linguistics literature student at pwani university.awesome hub!

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 26, 2010:

Let me know what you think of it, Jessica. Thank you for stopping by.

Jessica on September 26, 2010:

Sounds like a great book, I haven't read it yet but I love Kenya and will definitely get round to reading it.

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 25, 2010:

Thank you, anthony. I appreciate your comments.

anthony on September 25, 2010:

A great analysis of A Grain of Wheat.I first read this novel as part of my literature course at Kenyatta University.then I taught it at A levels,Loyola High in Dar es salaam.Each time i read it,it captures me emotionally,taking me back to those old days in Kenyan villages.Its nostalgic.great Hub!

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on April 17, 2010:

Thank you, Grain Flaker. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Grain Flaker on April 17, 2010:

For the first time I came across the "A Grain Of Wheat",but how it affected the Kenya both politically & religiously is eye-catching.Thanks for this nice hub.

Danielle on January 31, 2010:

The atmosphere tht ngugi creates is that of a feeling of war and oppression among parties in kenya because of "The

Movement"......But what is the writers attitude towards Mugo other than in the first chapter where he seems to describe him as an outsider,a farmer,self protective who was reared by his aunt....

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 30, 2009:

Corrodus, I'm not sure which "people" you're talking about. Ngugi's forward clearly states the novel is set in contemporary Kenya, and many of the characters reflect on their surroundings such as Mugo's contrasting feelings about his village and his time in in a British detention facility. Margery, too, compares her life and working in Kenya before and after the revolution; it's part of why she's thinking about leaving the country.

corrodus on September 30, 2009:

the people dont talk about the setting of the novel

Seth Tomko (author) from Macon, GA on September 08, 2009:

Thanks for reading my hub and being a fan of Ngugi. Petals of Blood is also a good example of his work. I hope I can get around to reading Wizard of the Crow soon.

yasmintoo from San Diego, CA, USA on September 08, 2009:

Ngugi Wa Thiongo is one of my all time favorite authors. I like "A Grain of Wheat," but I love "Petals of Blood."

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