Devil on the Cross

ISBN: 0435908448
ISBN 13: 9780435908447
By: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o

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About this book

This remarkable and symbolic novel centers on Wariinga's tragedy and uses it to tell a story of contemporary Kenya.

Reader's Thoughts


Two stars, that is what the author gets from me for trying so hard to complicate a story. But Ngugi is such a brain; one of the literary legends out of East Africa. Sometimes i wish i didnt have to read his books for Lit class. Perhaps if i had read them out of school i would have been more appreciative of them. Reading them for class made me look at them in terms of what the questions would require. I am making a weak promise to myself to re-read them.

Susan Stroupe

This is one of my favorite books ever. Ngugi is certainly one of the master writers out of central/east Africa, and this is one of his masterworks. It captures the overall feel of post-Colonial Africa in storytelling what all those academic books seem to still strive to do. I had a much better sense of the situation in immediate post-Colonialism, and I think it's still very relevant today. The book itself is an amazing combination of narrative, song, and fable, so it might be slightly jarring to many Western readers. Don't let it stop you!


So far so boring. I feel bad judging it, seeing as I've read very little, but I don't think the translation works quite, it's missing its soul or something. Or maybe I just don't like the style. I don't get all the biblical or cultural or whatever-they-are where they just all of a sudden start telling a depressing story and repeating themselves or singing...Maybe I just don't get it, but it's not very engaging. And the names confuse me. Sooooo...finishing this book will be rather painful.The only thing that saved this book from the "sucky" shelf was the ending. My negative visceral reaction aligned me with the people Ngugi is portraying as The Devil in a way that made me stop and re-evaluate my impulse to deem it "sucky." It was interesting and thought-provoking in retrospect. But so very confrontational. When it comes to thought-provoking confrontational African writers, I prefer Coatzee. Coatzee is at least enjoyable to read.


A fantastic though sometimes heavy handed look at African capitalism, Mau Mau, and the African socialist response.


Powerful tale filled with songs and parables debating issues like imperialism, modern capitalism, gender roles. It is beautifully written. Wariinga, its heroine comes through numerous struggles and immerges brave and wise.

Jessica Lynne Gardner

I appreciate books that don't scream their entire message right away. A good book should expect your undivided attention as well as your devotion to finding the trail of bread-crumbs that leads to the overall point. This did not disappoint. A book banned in many countries, there are plenty of fascinating shadows to explore within the darkness of this novel. Beautifully allegorical, religion, neo-colonialism, sexism and a rich history are left for the reader to make sense of and take sides. It is a frame story but this does not distract from the piece. The imagery is disturbing and harsh which is completely appropriate for the subject of neo-colonialism. A more serene and pastoral piece would not have done justice to the author or the representation of the allegorical characters. A fascinating read.

George Njoroge

As a native Gikuyu speaker, Devil on the Cross is stripped on its vernacular genius once translated into English. This is by far his best book & most polemical.


I read this book in college, but it has stuck with me as one of the more articulate, fictional works about colonialism and Africa. It's relatively easy to follow the symbolism and to find parallels between the characters and today's political actors.


I have a test on this book tomorrow but from the few pages i read, up until the Devil's got interesting but ONLY because the lecturer cleared what was happening. I also wish I did not have to read it for class

Zach VandeZande

A clearly important work that attempted to define a national literature while positing that there may be no peaceful way out from under oppression. Good stuff.

Erik Garris

Well - I remember reading this about 10 years ago and liking it...even though I don't remember much now. However, I don't remember much of anything, so that doesn't indicate that it was a forgettable book by any means.

Aram Sohigian

have recently started reading about Africa and have to admit to being fairly ignorant about most African history and literature. Therefor, this review will be somewhat limited since I believe that the characters in this book are all based on cultural and social ideals and thoughts instead of actual “people” like many novels. This book was also written while Thiong’ o was in jail because of a play he wrote about the government. The then vice president of Kenya ordered his arrest. While imprisoned, Thiong’ o wrote this book on toilet paper guards gave him because he had no paper. Thiong’ o writes in his native Kikuyu language and translates it into English himself.The book is built around a “Devil’s Feast” where the best robbers and thieves from all around the world will meet in Ilmorog, a fictional city in Kenya, and tell their stories. After the stories are told, the robbers and thieves will then decide who is the greatest of them all. The main character, Wariinga, is a Kenyan woman in her mid 20s who has just been fired by Boss Kihara for not sleeping with him. She also has a child by The Rich Old Man who dumped her after finding out she was pregnant with his child and went back to his wife. This sets the premise of women being used and abused by men in Kenya but also, Warringa seems to the redemptive power of women and the poor of Kenya while most of the men are metaphors for capitalism and western culture, raping and destroying Kenya for its own needs and desires.Wariinga decides to return to her hometown, Illmorog. She rides in a bus with 5 other characters that seem to represent other parts of Kenya’s culture: The students who want equality. The professors who are trying to educate and help the poor. The wealthy who are part of the Devil’s Feast, proud of their raping of Kenya and the poor, and another woman who is much like Warringa and fights for rights and equality after being used by men.They watch and listen to the Devil’s Feast and hear pride filled stories from the robbers and thieves about how they are using and destroying Kenya. They disregard the native intelligence and culture, seeing it as “primitive” and worthless, justifying their own desire to make money and rule the world. Thiong’ o obivously had a great disdain of the willingness of capitalism and western ideology to sell and use with little regard to what the west can learn from these cultures. This also includes Christianity and western religions which tend to ignore the Earth and destroy the beauty of the world instead of caring for and respecting it. It seems many of the most corrupt characters are the ones that claim they are from “The Church” and therefore have a ready excuse to ruin other people’s lives. The Feast goes on until two of the characters get the students, workers and the police to come and take them into custody. The police are paid off and actually arrest all the students and workers and put them in jail while the rich foreigners and Kenyans who advocate destroying the Kenyan culture go free.The end of the story is not one that I want to give away because it is such a powerful book. I have yet to read anyone that has characters who are so dense and soliloquies that are so eloquent and angry at the same time. This book is a difficult read if one is not willing to take the time to pay attention to the language and logic of each. It reminds me of As I lay Dying by Faulkner in that there are quick changes between characters who are narrating and each character is so different . That being said, Thiong’o's style is entirely different than Faulkner’s so please don’t expect that kind of prose. It is much more dense and yet lush at the same time.This is definitely a book that I will reread a few times in my life because I can only imagine how much I have missed while still enjoying it thoroughly. Also, Ngugi wa Thiong’ o will be coming to Mills College to speak in March. I look forward to reading his other novels before I hear him in person


Looking back at my reflections on this, I'm reminded of this excellent blog post about women as allegorical figures. Ngũgĩ's construction of Jacinta Wariinga as an allegorical figure for all of Kenya's struggling working class ultimately rests on sexist assumptions about gender. While Ngugi is clearly pointing out that women are exploited by black and white men alike in Kenya, he turns this concept of gender oppression into a metaphor for class oppression; any struggle for equality must ultimately be a struggle for class equality. The sexual exploitation of women becomes the metaphor for the seduction and rape of the people/country of Kenya which has occurred since the Mau Mau insurgency. The experiences of individual women are lumped together into two different ideal female characters (Wariinga and Wangari), implying that there are only certain forms of exploitation which women face (prostitution, lack of education, and menial/clerical labor are the ones which stand out) and only one way to fight this exploitation (violent revolution). Wariinga's transformation from meek and mild to a gun-toting revolutionary carries with it obvious gender connotations, implying through her allegorical figure that in order for women to achieve class equality, they must take on masculinized props and characteristics and effect change through violent revolution. I thought the narrative was important insofar as it discusses a political situation and history of which Western audiences are probably unaware, but swallowing Ngũgĩ's sexism was difficult.


This review be a lil sloppy cuz i'm just like piling all my thoughts about it together.....When i first started the book, i wasn't very enthusiastic about it. There were a lot of things i didn't understand and the names and words in Gikuyu confused me. It took me a long time to get through the introduction/beginning section of the novel. However, the second half of the book was a lot more interesting and by then I became more familiar and comfortable with reading Ngũgĩ's style of writing. The book is mainly about how big foreign companies and their leaders unjustly exploit the laborers/workers and poor people of Kenya. Ofcourse, we hear these kinds of stories all the time - Dirty capitalists taking advantage of people and cheating people to make their profits- but, a lot of times we overlook these stories and fail to understand the details and difficult positions people hold in the system (the hunters and the hunted). I feel like i learned a lot about the struggles of Kenyans against the whole neo-colonial imperialism thing, especially for women. It seems to me that for the thieves/robbers and the exploited, it is all a game of survival. There will always be the rich and the poor, the hunters and the hunted. But then there are also people who can rise above and rebel against the hunters. "Devil on the Cross" can open peoples' eyes to the threat the Kenyan culture/economy/politics underwent during the time this novel was written. The ending was just absolutely jaw dropping.


Good book but gets a little long here and there. The ending left me with some distaste... I was mixed about the sudden change in a character who reacts, well, out of character. The end message makes one think whether you should agree with Ngugi or not.

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