Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o is Kenya’s most famous writer. His 1964 debut, Weep Not, Child, was the country’s first published novel. The River Between is on Kenya’s national syllabus. His early books were simple fables but they were good stories. As a boy, I remember Ngũgĩ stood out, together with Chinua Achebe and Meja Mwangi, as the best among the Heinemann African Writers that defined a generation of fiction coming out of the continent after the end of empire. This series, with its distinctive black-and-orange covers, was the only interesting reading material you could find on the half-empty shelves of Nairobi dukas that called themselves bookshops but mostly sold school texts and dust-coated magazines.
By the 1970s Ngũgĩ was becoming much more political. He dropped his first name, James, because it was ‘colonial’. He declared he would no longer write in English because that was ‘colonial’ too. He switched to his own vernacular, Gikuyu, in the play Ngaahika Ndeenda. This attempted to end the