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  • Ngugi and African Postcolonial Narrative: The Novel as Oral Narrative in Multigenre Performance
  • Makim M. Mputubwele
F. Odun Balogun. Ngugi and African Postcolonial Narrative: The Novel as Oral Narrative in Multigenre Performance. Quebec: World Heritage P, 1997. xi + 180pp.

Ngugi and African Postcolonial Narrative is primarily the study of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Matigari and, to a lesser degree, Devil on the Cross as multigenre novels. For Balogun, a novel is multigeneric when it has within it “several literary genres, traditionally separated as incompatible or linked in subordinative relationship,” which “coexist on equal footing, and in which, at the same time, the essential characteristics of the traditional novel . . . are carefully preserved.” Ngugi has achieved that balance between various genres in his latest two novels, Devil on the Cross and Matigari. The level of achievement, however, differs in each novel, and the presence of oral narrative devices is the deciding factor that determines whether or not the novel is multiform. Only Matigari is considered the African multigenre novel par excellence, while the success of Devil on the Cross in this regard is limited. [End Page 478]

Balogun opens his analysis with a concise survey of Ngugi’s earlier works, his ideology, and its impact on his writing. He makes a clear distinction between the two multiform novels and Ngugi’s previous works while exploring this new approach. The pertinence of the introductory chapters demonstrates their significance as essential background for a better understanding of Ngugi, his works, and the subject under consideration. These chapters also help in setting the framework for the discussion. In a separate section, Balogun examines Ngugi’s culture and language theory and how they affect his works. The real debate on the novel as oral narrative in a multigenre performance begins with a chapter on Devil on the Cross, and continues in the five subsequent chapters containing detailed analysis on Matigari.

Devil on the Cross is said to be “an apprenticeship” in which Ngugi experiments with his innovative multiform narrative. Balogun argues that Ngugi restructures the traditional Western novel according to the aesthetic preferences of oral narrative tradition. The experiment is only partially successful. One wonders if this is not also a linguistic apprenticeship for Ngugi, who is writing for the first time a work of this magnitude in Gikuyu and whose command of the language is not yet very solid.

The study of Matigari takes up five of the book’s nine chapters, each one dealing with a specific genre. The five genres that Balogun investigates are oral narrative performance, hagiography, mythology, the realist novel, and postmodern deconstructive narrative. He explores the oral narrative performance by using epic and its most essential characteristics, including characterization, compositional structure, linguistic and stylistic formulas, and setting. By hagiography, Balogun means a narrative containing a central character described as a Christ figure. He considers twelve stages in Jesus’s life, which he compares with a similar set of twelve stages in Matigari’s. The argumentation is sound most times, but not always convincing on the religious or divine aspects.

Matigari is first of all a literary myth created by Ngugi with a historical mythic hero as the central character. He is also a class hero that Ngugi uses to promote the interests of the most exploited class, the proletariat. The novel is also presented as a biblical myth in which the principles of liberation theology are important.

Contrary to what some critics have said, Balogun contends that [End Page 479] Matigari is a realistic novel. In his opinion, these critics have failed to realize that in this book Ngugi is applying a new form that renounces the traditional notions of realism. Balogun articulates his arguments around myth construction and deconstruction in Matigari and its self-deconstructing linguistic elements.

Much has been said on the Kenyan writer, but not many scholars have delved extensively into the issue of multigenre performance in Ngugi’s novels as Balogun has. His insightful and pertinent analysis reflects a comprehensive grasp of the subject matter. Throughout his book, Balogun always gives a theoretical synopsis of the major issues before debating them.

Ngugi and African Postcolonial Narrative is a valuable reference and a very...

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