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Reviewed by:
  • The Mzungu Boy
  • Karen Coats
Mwangi, Meja The Mzungu Boy. House of Anansi/Groundwood, 2005150p Trade ed. ISBN 0-88899-653-5$15.95 Paper ed. ISBN 0-88899-664-0$6.95 R Gr. 4-8

Kariuki chafes against his life of chores and beatings in his small village in British-ruled Kenya of the 1950s, but he finds compensation in the beauty of the land around him and his own secret haunts. When he happens upon a white boy, Nigel, out fishing, he knows that his life is going to get even harder, but he can't resist Nigel's open offer of friendship. Nigel is the grandson of Kariuki's father's boss, the local plantation owner, so every misadventure the boys undertake threatens Kariuki's father's job and lands Kariuki in heaps of trouble. Kariuki is always willingly sucked into Nigel's plans for adventure, however, and the ultimate thrill of hunting a huge old boar proves fatal for the landowner's dogs and nearly so for the boys when they recklessly chase the dangerous animal into the deep forest. Nigel is kidnapped by rebels, and it is only through Kariuki's persistence and his older brother Hari's soft-heartedness that they escape with their lives—Hari is not so lucky. The backdrop of the burgeoning Mau Mau Rebellion sets off the plot effectively as the boys live everyday amidst dangers that they don't see or understand, while seeking thrills that they naïvely think they can manage. Mwangi's characterization is accurate and insightful; Nigel's bland sense of privilege and noblesse oblige not only blinds him to the casual brutality of the life of a village boy, but also to his role in causing many of the blows that rain down on Kariuki for befriending him and accepting his gifts. However, the boys' friendship offers hope in the midst of tragedy; the imagery of the two boys standing shoulder to shoulder as the flood waters rise below them is a potent final symbol for a possible future that will transcend the bloodshed that is about to descend on their village. A note explaining historical context concludes the text.



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