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The Mzungu Boy
Mwangi, Meja; The Mzungu Boy. Berkeley: Groundwood / Publishers Group West (dist.), 2005. $15.95, ISBN 0 689 85975 9ISBN Paper 0 88899 664 0.

Note: "For Kariuki, life in his small Kenyan village is one great adventure. It gets even more interesting when he meets Nigel, an English boy who is visiting his grandfather. Kariuki befriends Nigel even though the rest of the villagers fear him and call him "the mzungu boy."(CABA Winner)


I like this young adult novel enormously, partly because its vivid smells and sounds call out the forest and highlands of Kenya. But I especially appreciate the book for telling an important story well-the story of settler colonialism in Kenya. Mzungu Boy offers a tonic to the disturbingly widespread Out of Africa syndrome, where the whites are strong pioneers out there alone facing an unforgiving environment. In Mzungu Boy we learn the same story, but from the opposite perspective, that of a young boy whose father works long harsh hours as the cook for a white settler family. We still see the strong white pioneer, but now as a deeply feared, cruel and seemingly omnipotent stranger.

The novel is set in the early 1950s as the MauMau movement was gathering strength in the "White" Highlands. When the boy Kariuki meets "mzungu" (white guy), the grandson of the plantation owner, the story takes off. As the boys become closer friends, their surrounding world becomes more fearful and violent. Still, the two boys try to have fun together and understand each other's strange ways. Ultimately, their friendship is one of several causes of the brutal murder of Kariuki's brother by the settler police. Yet the boys' friendship somehow perseveres because they aren't old enough to understand that colonialism is irredeemably distorting their lives and will undoubtedly end up destroying their friendship.

The book is beautifully written, with scenes and plot lines flowing smoothly as the story builds to its climax. Readers will learn much about the nature and brutality of colonialism from this novel and its effect on ordinary people.

Copyright ©2005 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com

Rating: HR Grade: E / M Type: Book

Reviewed by: Barbara Brown (bbbrown@bu.edu), African Studies Center Outreach Program, Boston University

Subject: East Africa / Kenya / Historical Fiction / CABA Winner