cover image Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir

Wrestling with the Devil: A Prison Memoir

Ngugi wa Thiong’o. New Press, $25.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-6209-7333-2

Kenyan activist-intellectual wa Thiong’o (Petals of Blood) recreates the hellish months of his confinement in Kenya’s Kamiti Maximum Security Prison before his release on December 12, 1978. This engrossing memoir is gleaned from a previous book, Detained: A Writer’s Prison Diary, originally published in 1982, but only now published in the U.S. in expanded form. Following the humiliation of being arrested at his home on Dec. 30, 1977, wa Thiong’o writes of his detention in isolation with 18 other political prisoners who suffered from beatings, starvation, sleeping on cold cement floors, and who were denied all outside contact. He refused to surrender his humanity and wrote a novel, Devil on the Cross, on hoarded toilet paper, explaining, “The writing of the novel has been one way of keeping my mind and heart together.” Presenting an African view of old colonial life in Kenya, he comments on the significance of anticolonial activist Jomo Kenyatta, preventive detention, and the crushing terror of torture used to instill fear and silence. At once exhilarating and defiant, wa Thiong’o’s memoir is a thought provoking document of a grim time in Kenyan history. (Mar.)