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


Just finished reading this one for my Literary Crticism class, and WOW! A truly amazing book. The style is quite different from what I'm use to reading, but I was able to get my bearing after about 30 pages or so. There's so much I want to say about this book, but I can't quite put it into words. Read it. You won't be disappointed. Don't let the style, subject, and the fact that it was written for a specific audience detour you.

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!

Sofia Samatar

The rhetoric is heavy here, but the critiques, particularly of the idea of "African Capitalism," are razor-sharp. Even if you find the politics and the one-dimensional nature of some of the characters a drag, the book is worth reading for that critique, and for the way it expresses oral stylistics in writing. When was the last time you read a book translated from an African language?


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.

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


This novel (or thinly-veiled, utterly unoriginal philosophical treatise) was an acute displeasure to read. If I had wanted to enjoy a dissertation on evil capitalist pigs, I would have read The Communist Manifesto. To compare it to The Communist Manifesto is actually an insult to The Communist Manifesto. At least Marx and Engels had the sense to stick to the realm of non-fiction (though I guess that's debatable.)If you enjoyed this book, God bless you. You have a fortitude of spirit that I can only ever hope to attain.


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 book sucked. the social commentary ive heard before for any other tyranical society. it was repeating stuff we learned in other classes that is too depressing for us to care now. really boring. the end was okay. but it was still boring and indulgent.


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.


written by nugugi on a roll of toliet paper while he was held captive in a prison in Kenya. That says enough but also just really speaks to the reality of life an African nation and the affects of colonization. I learned so much from this book.

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.


By far the weakest Ngugi I've read. While it still has some of the same great characterisation and pissed-off political analysis as Petals Of Blood and Wizard Of The Crow, it far too often turns into something that reads more like a play than a novel, where characters representing various factions simply recite long monologues of Post-Colonial Marxism 101 at each other. The fact that he wrote it while imprisoned for political crimes (supposedly, the chapters are of varying length because he wrote it on whatever paper he managed to get a hold of - including toilet paper) probably explains that, the novel is more a call to action than a subtle allegory, but it doesn't necessarily make it a better book. The ending packs one hell of a punch, though.


I read this for Post Colonial lit and then saw it on my bookshelf like 2 weeks later and couldn't remember if I'd read it or not. As far as I remember it was some allegorical something about communism. I said I didn't like allegory and somehow that was hegemonic. Unipolic. Draconian.


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.


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.

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