A welcome addition to the vast literature produced by jailed writers across the centuries (Boethius, Cervantes, Gramsci, Soyinka, Solzhenitsyn, Peltier), this book has several traits that make it special. Ngugi does not wish to enthrone his experience as unique. Instead, he sees his detention as a mere link in a chain of previous internments dating back to the British occupation of Kenya and continuing under the corrupt post-independence regime. A third of the book therefore describes, not his own daily ritual of endurance, as most memoirs of this sort do, but a history of repression and resistance in his homeland, strewn with exhortations to liberate Africa from foreign domination. This formulaic repetition of revolutionary rhetoric — a bit wearisome even to this sympathetic reader — has, admittedly, an organic function. Ngugi is affording us a glimpse into how a prisoner of conscience, by stubbornly reiterating his convictions, keeps faith with the ideals that those in power want him to betray ... This thrilling testament to the human spirit had, for me, a fierce resonance.
Mr. wa Thiong’o adds yet another important book to his literary canon, where he deconstructs the language of colonialism, as much as he continues pounding away at the ills of capitalism, religion and the neocolonial estate as tools of subjugation ... It is at once a gripping account of endurance through the mental torture that is detention without trial, an indictment of the British colonial system and the savage ways in which white settlers crushed the spirit of all aspects of Kenyan life. Ultimately, it is a book on the act of writing and how the transcendent power of art can itself be a form of defiance.
Ngugi tends to write in generalities, yet this volume still devastates with painful details of his time at Kamiti ... And he writes with a cutting wit, as when he states that the highest artistic achievements of white settlers were murals in a hotel bar that 'still attract dozens of tourists who come to enjoy racist aesthetics in art' ... Wrestling With the Devil is a powerful testament to the courage of Ngugi and his fellow prisoners and validation of the hope that an independent Kenya would eventually emerge.