Posted by: Jeff | October 27, 2009

Book Review: Wizard of the Crow

I finished this book a little while ago, but thought I would share a brief review of what is probably my favorite work of contemporary fiction.

Wizard of the Crow, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

Wizard of the Crow

An absolute masterful blend of magical realism and social commentary, infused with vivid storytelling and a good dose of comedy – this book has it all. I’ve seen reviews hail Thiong’o as the “African Gabriel Garcia Marquez” and this book as the “African Brave New World” but I think both descriptors do this book a disservice. Having read the other author and novel, I believe this book rises far above them.

Though set in a fictional locale, Thiong’o draws directly on attributes of Africa’s most notorious regimes (Zimbabwe comes to mind) when describing a ruling class of corruption and greed for whom public good is simply not a concern. The personality cult surrounding African big men such as Mugabe or Mobutu is exaggerated to epic proportions in order to display its absurdity. The absurd reigns in Aburiria, where myth and truth are inseparable, and a beggar rises to become an iconic wielder of magic powerful enough to threaten even the most dystopian of societies.

In addition to integrating elements of magic and mysticism into a contemporary political fable, Thiong’o masterfully twists causation to hilarious effect, giving rise to situations where a reactionary government ban on line-forming results in the breakdown of social order, the internment of a wealthy businessman leads to the HIV-conscious nation being hijacked by a bucket of excrement, and the rejection of the Dear Leader figure by international media triggers a swelling of the body to counterbalance a deflated ego.

Though humor runs throughout the novel, there are decidedly dark moments as well.  Critics of the regime routinely disappear.  The population is cowed and defeated, largely without hope.  Poverty and waste are pandemic.  Something is clearly rotten in Aburiria.

Through it all the awakening of Vinjinia, a woman married into the elite ruling class, perhaps comes closest to Thiong’o’s hope that Africans realize the absurdity of putting their faith in public servants that have no intention on serving the public. “What made her even happier,” he writes, “was knowing that she was now in solidarity with people she had once thought evil, people who, despite her disagreement with their politics, she now saw as humane and generous at heart. She certainly preferred them to the beastly and mean-spirited rulers of Aburiria.”  And in that awakening, Thiong’o dares to hope of a future where transparent democracy replaces the magical allure of demagoguery.

Other Reviews:  The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Guardian

Interview with Author: Salon



  1. I’m convinced. Do I have to buy my own copy or can I borrow yours?

    • You can borrow, but you might want to wait until a semester break because it’s pretty long!

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