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


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

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?

Laura Avellaneda-Cruz

I hesitate between 2 and 3 stars because I loved what I learned from the book and the awareness that it renewed in me about neocolonial capitalist exploitation, and I love the strongly feminist awareness and message. However, the style of writing and the way the story was constructed read more like a treatise on leftist politics than a piece of art, and so as a novel it does not wholly succeed. Now, it is true that I and many others would not have read a non-fiction treatise on how certain members of Kenyan society sell their country to foreign colonial and corporate interests and how they exploited the independence gained by the Mau Maus to cheat and enrich themselves on the blood and sweat of their own people, or how the exploitation of women is bound up in capitalist exploitation. Putting these concepts in novel form was a very clever way for Ngugi to share this awareness and to call for hope and struggle. However, I wish he could have done it more artfully, because I felt at times that I was reading for obligation, never fully immersed in the language or flow of the book. It felt hackish in style, like he was desperate to fit everything in there, no matter how contrived it seemed in the dialogue between two characters. Nevertheless, I'd recommend it for anyone wishing to learn about Kenya, or possibly Africa in general, after colonial rule, and how independence has often been co-opted or exploited. It is also one of the most empathetic and in-depth views of systems of economic and sexual exploitation and violence against women I have ever read, coupled with a (somewhat less developed and believable) story of female resistance and strength, and for this reason alone I would recommend it. Still, though, while it is a good story of women, and a true story, it is not told with enough complexity and art to really hit the gut.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Andrew Ssempala

As always, Ngugi never tires of the the theme of struggle against colonial and neocolonial influences. That's what his novels are majorly about. In fact Kenya suffered more from the effects of a long settled European class who had established themselves as an upper class above the natives and even taken their lands. "Devil on the Cross" is the post-colonial equivalent of "Weep Not Child", his even more successful novel. Am glad I read this book, for it told me a lot about the men who run the economy in post-independence Kenya.


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.


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.


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.

Daniel Matela

Great book by an African!Pity that having read the book and seeing what is Still happening,looks like Africans never learn or are slow to learn!


Ngugi is one of the preeminent voices in East African Literature. I really haven't read very many East African novels, but I enjoyed the two of his book's I read. I remember this one better, so I decided to review it.As with many colonial and post-colonial authors, Ngugi had a long history of fairly vocal dissent and conflict with government authority. In fact, this novel was reportedly composed on toilet paper while he was in a Kenyan prison. "Devil" is fundamentally revolutionary literature aimed at creating a rational for Kenyan nationalism, independence, and traditional values, eschewing the greed and materialism he sees in western influences in Kenya. He was an advocate for African writers composing in their traditional languages instead on the colonial tongue.The book follows the life of a young Kenyan woman as she tries to succeed in a corrupt society. Ngugi actually celebrates this young woman's eventual decision to follow an non-traditional path, becoming an engineer.Fiction in the vein of Fanon's "Wretched of the Earth", a powerful use of allegory.

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