Africa's Wizard Of Words

GARY CALTON for TIME

OUT OF AFRICA: Ngugi has been writing in exile for 24 years

Most great writers have a knack for bringing their characters to life. But only Ngugi wa Thiong'o could write a character so convincing he almost gets arrested. In 1986, while the author's native Kenya was suffocating under President Daniel arap Moi's oppressive rule, Ngugi wrote Matigari, a novel whose eponymous hero travels the country protesting against the regime. Because [an error occurred while processing this directive] Matigari posed questions Kenyans were afraid to ask, they talked about him as if he were real, the way soap-opera fans and comic-book lovers do.

"The regime thought there was a guy actually going...

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