A Grain of Wheat is a novel by Kenyan novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, written while he studying at Leeds University and first published in 1967 by Heinemann. The title is taken from the Gospel According to St. John, 12:24. The novel weaves together several stories set during the state of emergency in Kenya's struggle for independence (1952–59), focusing on the quiet Mugo, whose life is ruled by a dark secret. The plot revolves around his home village's preparations for Kenya's independence day celebration, Uhuru day. On that day, former resistance fighters General R and Koinandu plan on publicly executing the traitor who betrayed Kihika (a heroic resistance fighter hailing from the village).
Mugo, a loner who became a hero after leading a hunger strike in a British concentration camp and trying to stop a village guard from beating a pregnant woman to death. Although he is thought to be a hero throughout the whole book, he is the traitor who betrayed Kihika to the British in the hope of collecting a reward.
Gikonyo, an ambitious carpenter and business man married to Mumbi. He confessed to taking the oath of the resistance while in a concentration camp, securing an early release only to find that his wife had borne a child with his hated rival Karanja while he was away.
Mumbi, the wife of Gikonyo and sister of Kihika. While Gikonyo was imprisoned she slept with Karanja, who had been appointed village chief by the colonial power.
Karanja, a collaborator with the British and widely suspected to be the traitor.
Kihika, a resistance fighter who conquered a police station and killed the hated District Officer Robson. He was caught and hanged after being betrayed by Mugo.
John Thompson, an early British settler and administrator of Thabai, who believes in the ideals of colonial imperialism and persecutes black Africans.
A Grain of Wheat is about the events that lead up to Kenyan independence, or Uhuru. The setting is a Kenyan village. When the characters Gikonyo and Mumbi get married, in love and just starting their lives, Gikonyo is sent to detention. When he comes back after six years, Mumbi had his rival's child. They cannot find the words to talk about the past, and a wall is created between them. Mumbi's brother gets captured and hanged and the town realize that the one they thought to be the hero, was actually the betrayer.