Mwangi’s keen eye for the drama and humor in everyday rural life in Kenya shines throughout his work. Striving for the Wind, set in the drought years of the 1980s, contrasts a traditional farmer, who is dependent on oxen for plowing, with a wealthy neighbor whose imported tractor is incapacitated during a global petrol crisis. While this novel is suitable for young adults, it does not shy away from some painful realities. It includes the seduction of a young schoolgirl by a rich old man, and when the young girl becomes pregnant, his son says that he will marry her in his father’s place.
Other themes that are common to all his works are the difficulties young educated Kenyans face when trying to return to their rural homes to apply their learning and the impact of corrupt officials on the lives of the poor. The young adult novel The Last Plague, which won Mwangi his third Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2001, offers a seldom-heard African male perspective on the impact of HIV/AIDS in rural areas. Again, it features a well-educated, well-meaning young man facing many obstacles as he tries to set up his veterinary practice in a small, dying town. Mwangi’s tremendous concern for the poor and disadvantaged— and his prescriptions for how they could really be helped—resonate throughout the novel.
Mwangi continues to be a prolific writer. His latest novel, The Boy Gift, will be released in 2006. Suitable for adults and young adults alike, it is about the confusion caused by the birth of a light-skinned, green-eyed baby in the Bush Hospital. While political aspirations and intrigue surround the birth of the boy, at the emotional and psychological levels the author explores a community’s reaction to the strange and inexplicable.