Wrestling with the Devil

A Prison Memoir

An unforgettable chronicle of the year the brilliant novelist and memoirist, long favored for the Nobel Prize, was thrown in a Kenyan jail without charge

“One of the greatest writers of our time.” —Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Wrestling with the Devil, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s powerful prison memoir, begins literally half an hour before his release on December 12, 1978. In one extended flashback he recalls the night, a year earlier, when armed police pulled him from his home and jailed him in Kenya’s Kamĩtĩ Maximum Security Prison, one of the largest in Africa. There, he lives in a prison block with eighteen other political prisoners, quarantined from the general prison population.

In a conscious effort to fight back the humiliation and the intended degradation of the spirit, Ngũgĩ—the world-renowned author of Weep Not, Child; Petals of Blood; and Wizard of the Crow—decides to write a novel on toilet paper, the only paper to which he has access, a book that will become his classic, Devil on the Cross.

Written in the early 1980s and never before published in America, Wrestling with the Devil is Ngũgĩ’s account of the drama and the challenges of writing fiction under twenty-four-hour surveillance. He captures not only the excruciating pain that comes from being cut off from his wife and children, but also the spirit of defiance that defines hope. Ultimately, Wrestling with the Devil is a testimony to the power of imagination to help humans break free of confinement, which is truly the story of all art.

News and Reviews

Ariel Dorfman, The New York Times Book Review

This thrilling testament to the human spirit had, for me, a fierce resonance. . . . I could not help feeling that his luminous words were meant for those victims and many others being persecuted across the world, a way of urging humanity to never surrender to the demons of fear and silence.

Publishers Weekly

“Engrossing … At once exhilarating and defiant, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s memoir is a thought-provoking document of a grim time in Kenyan history.”

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and Charlotte McDonald-Gibson have each garnered major accolades for their respective new books, 

Books by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

Birth of a Dream Weaver
A Writer’s Awakening

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o