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


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


it's worth reading, if only to see a different perspective of the west. has a mythical feel.


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.


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


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!


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.

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!

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

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.


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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