0392 | The River Between | Ngugi wa Thiong’o

0392 | The River Between | Ng?g? waThiong'o

Context: Was reading this when we climbed Mt Yasur in Vanuatu and watched it belch lava into the night.


This is a very important book and a pretty good read too. If you’ve read and appreciated Things Fall Apart, this is cast in the same vein and you will appreciate this.

Written in a similar lyrical style to The Life and Times of Michael K or Cry, The Beloved Country, The River Between tells the story of gradually deepening rifts in a community as the influences of colonialism make themselves felt. Factions appear and the battles between them force each and every individual to choose.

The vehicle for our experience of this conflict is Waiyaki, a man desperate to bridge the divides but inevitably doomed. His counterpart is Joshua, a man zealous for his Christian God and now blind to his cultural traditions.

The tension between these two men is bad enough but it is heightened considerably by the love shared between Waiyaki and Joshua’s daughter. I was glad this was a short novel because I don’t think I could have bared much more. It was intensely powerful.

Novels that chart the changes that cultures in this world have gone through in a generation or two are in themselves historical documents of the highest importance. Ngugi’s novel is one of these. I was very glad to hear Wikipedia say that this is a set text in Kenyan schools. I wish it was a set text in British schools. Taught sensitively, I think this book could save future generations some heartache. I’m glad to have learned more about the interaction of faith, tradition and clashing cultures.


The two ridges lay side by side.


All his life Joshua had tried to win more and more people to Christ. He was a man who, even at his age, had tremendous energy. And he had thought that he was succeeding. Indeed, at first he had succeeded. Many had come to him. Many had been baptized. And had he not been responsible for persuading elders to take their sons to Siriana to hear Christ’s word and get the white man’s learning?

But now fate seemed to be working against him. Many of those who had enthusiastically gone to him had slipped back to their old customs and rituals. Many had gone back to take a second bride. Not that Joshua saw anything intrinsically wrong in having a second bride. In fact he had always been puzzled by the fact that men of the Old Testament who used to walk with God and angels had more than one wife. But the man at the Mission had said this was a sin. And so a sin it had to be. Joshua was not prepared to question what he knew to be God-inspired assertions of the white man. After all, the white man had brought Christ into the country.


But the religion, the faith, needed washing, cleaning away all the dirt leaving only the eternal. And that eternal that was the truth had to be reconciled to the traditions of the people. A people’s traditions cannot be swept away overnight. That way lay disintegration. Such a tribe would have no roots, for a people’s roots were in their traditions going back to the past, the very beginning… A religion that took no count of people’s way of life, a religion that did not recognise spots of beauty and truths in their way of life, was useless. It would not satisfy. It would not be a living experience, a source of life and vitality. It would only maim a man’s soul, making him fanatically cling to whatever promised security, otherwise he would be lost.


And Honia river went on flowing between them, down through the valley of life, its beat rising above the dark stillness, reaching into the heart of the people of Makuyu and Kameno.


0392 | The River Between | Ng?g? | 82% | Excellent

Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style Read more about how I come up with my ratings

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