Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote Weep Not, Child while studying at at Leeds University in England in 1962. Weep Not, Child was the second novel Ngugi wrote, although it was published before his first, The River Between. It follows the tragic story of Njoroge, a young boy who seeks an education during the 1952-1960 Emergency in Kenya. This tumultuous time period saw the emergence of Kenyan revolutionary groups against the British colonists.
The novel's aim is less to tell a few stories than to explore an entire culture in flux and on the verge of violence, through several perspectives. It includes several sub-plots, including those of Ngotho, Njoroge's father, who struggles against the loss of his family's land; and Mwihaki, a wealthy village girl who explores a romance with Njoroge. Most interestingly, perhaps, it also attempts to understand the mindset of one of the white colonists, Mr. Howlands.
When Weep Not, Child was published in 1964, very few East Africans had published novels in English. The novel, as well as those that followed it, was well-received by literary critics, although it failed at the time to garner the sales and attention given to white authors who have written about Africa, such as Alan Paton and Bryce Courtenay. However, in recent decades, the novel has received consistent scholarly attention, and it is often assigned in courses about African literature and history. It is very different from Ngugi's later work, which is written in Gikuyu and features more overt stylistic experimentation than is present in Weep Not, Child. However, it features the same preoccupation with colonialism and corruption that would manifest in the author's later texts.