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A Note on the American edition
I wrote Matigari in 1983-84 in a one-room apartment at Noel Road in Islington London. It was my second novel in Gikuyu language. It came out in Kenya in 1986. Since then the book itself has had a history almost rivaling that of a fictional story it carries within the hard covers.
The novel was written within my first three years of political exile from the Kenya I love. My writing the novel in Gikuyu when there are hardly any significant speakers and readers of the language in Britain or abroad was my way of coping with the harsh conditions of exile and to make a connection with Kenya. When the novel came out in Kenya in 1986, it was indeed received in the country very positively. People started talking about the main character, Matigari, as a real living person. He was after all asking questions, albeit in a fictional landscape, which many people in the country were asking. In a dictatorship, questions of truth and justice are paramount precisely because these two are the first to disappear in such an environment. In the Kenya of 1986 and after, many intellectuals have been imprisoned, exiled or killed for going about their literary and academic tasks of asking questions. So it is not surprising that the regime's internal spy network should have quickly heard of the exploits of this man Matigari who it seems was going about the country agitating the populace with endless questions about truth and justice. The dictator responded in character. He had the police issue a warrant for the arrest of Matigari. But the hardworking policemen found out that the man they had come to arrest was only a fictional character in a book by the same title. The dictatorship reacted to this information by calling for the arrest of the book itself. And indeed, in a very well coordinated police action, they raided all the bookstores in the entire country sometimes in 1987 and took away all the copies of the novel, presumably to burn it or let it rot to death in a police garrison.
An English translation of the novel was then published in London in 1991. Here then was another irony. For a time the novel existed only in English and in exile abroad, thus sharing the fate of its author. Two years later copies of the book could be sold in the bookshops in Kenya; thus in its English language form, the novel and character could be read in Kenya, but not in its Gikuyu original. And it is only in 1997, under the new atmosphere of the struggle for multiparty democracy, that it was re-issued in its Gikuyu language original so that today the two versions can rub shoulders in the country. But still the novel and its characters are still more 'free' in exile in the double sense of both language and country than they are at home in their native country and language.
Matigari is one of my most personal narratives in the sense that in writing it I was trying to experiment with oral narrative forms. I hope readers of the American edition will enjoy the story. They do not have to look beyond their shoulders in the fear that a state authority will haul them in prison for reading a story about a man whose main interest is in the quest for truth and justice.
Ngugu wa Thiong'o
Orange, New Jersey
What People are Saying About This
Soon after Matigari's publication, its hero was mistaken by the paranoid, dictatorial government of Kenya as a revolutionary agitator plotting to overthrow the government, which promptly issued a warrant for his arrest! When the ensuing extensive search across the country finally revealed that Matigari was only a fictional hero, the book which had given birth to this phantom, this Matigari ... was immediately confiscated and banned from circulation.
Ngugi wa Thiong'o has succeeded in creating a fascinating and revolutionary concept of genre... Matigari is both a novel at the same time as it is an oral narrative performance. [Matigari] is likewise equally a hagiography as it is a myth.