A Grain of Wheat centres a political narrative about the struggle for independence and liberation in Kenya; about rebellion against British imperialism, and on this level it is searing, laying bare the injustice from the point of view of a richly varied cast of rural Kenyan people. Ngugi draws on Conrad to nuance the idealistic, but cold and inhuman character of the white DO, Thompson. He gives space to the character of each of the people in the village, revealing their motives in all their ambiguity and mystery.
The book shifts its tone from the magnified detail of the psychological novel to the broader framing of folk-anecdote and the rhythmic transmission of oral tradition, addressing the reader as an unidentified 'I', encompassing the village and sinking, a polymorphous identity, into the crowd. This innovative fluidity is refreshing to my spirit and allows an unusually rich and multifaceted emotional resonance to build. Often phlegmatic, the narrative gathers force and power as it patiently traces each person's tributary of recall to the communal estuary.