Read Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o Moses Isegawa Online

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The puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this fervent, hard-hitting novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. A deceptively simple tale, Petals of Blood is on the surface a suspenseful investigation of a spectacular triple murder in upcountry Kenya. Yet as the intertwined stories of the four suspects unfold, a devThe puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this fervent, hard-hitting novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. A deceptively simple tale, Petals of Blood is on the surface a suspenseful investigation of a spectacular triple murder in upcountry Kenya. Yet as the intertwined stories of the four suspects unfold, a devastating picture emerges of a modern third-world nation whose frustrated people feel their leaders have failed them time after time. First published in 1977, this novel was so explosive that its author was imprisoned without charges by the Kenyan government. His incarceration was so shocking that newspapers around the world called attention to the case, and protests were raised by human-rights groups, scholars, and writers, including James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, Donald Barthelme, Harold Pinter, and Margaret Drabble.First time in Penguin Classics...

Title : Petals of Blood
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ISBN : 9780143039174
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 432 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Petals of Blood Reviews

  • Cheryl
    2019-05-19 06:53

    I once gave up on the ambitious narrative sprawl of Wizard of the Crow, only to find my mind and body buried within the passionate scribble of these Petals of Blood,A flower with petals of blood. It was a solitary red beanflower in a field dominated by white, blue, and violet flowers. No matter how you looked at it, it gave you the impression of a flow of blood.To find oneself lost within an arresting read of love, sex, betrayal, oppression, censorship, and economic strife, while also courted by narrative strength of style, voice and reflection, is a reason to love a piece of art. But to find oneself lost in the beautiful tragedy of 1960 Eastern Africa, to traverse the mire and loveliness of the peasant landscape of “a forgotten village,” to endure the stench of strife, feel the warm rush of Theng’eta, and yet become enthralled by endurance, is to find oneself forever inspired by a piece of art. Putting aside the somewhat frustrating use of the ellipsis, this novel employs an unusual rotation of one-paragraph pages and one-word sentences; fragmented thought and elegant phraseology—its style and story are contradictions that parallel the confusion of a newly formed democracy. Wanja is a tortured soul like Cynthia Bond’s Ruby; like Enchi’s Suga, she is at first economically powerless and the men she comes across only want to ‘possess’ her; like Kawabata’s Komako, she feels hopeless, as if prostitution has defined her; but unlike these characters, she is also an empowered entrepreneur and seductress. She is fascinating, even when her mindset is a bit discomfiting. Three men—Abdulla, Munira, and Karega—are linked to this poised prostitute, a victim who chooses to use rather than be used again, and each man like her, has escaped a past. Soon, they learn how their pasts are linked. Like his post-colonial peers Soyinka and Achebe, wa Thiong’o was arrested in 1977 by the Kenyan government when this novel was first published. Not surprisingly, it was similarly minded American writers like Baldwin and Morrison who were strong protesters of his arrest. The true lesson of history was this: that the so-called victims, the poor, the downtrodden, the masses, had always struggled with spears and arrows, with their hands and songs of courage and hope, to end their oppression and exploitation: that they would continue struggling until a human kingdom came: a world in which goodness and beauty and strength and courage would be seen not in how cunning one can be, not in how much power to oppress one possessed, but only in one’s contribution in creating a more humane world… What can I say; I have too many highlighted passages, too many thoughts, all too jumbled within this distracted brain that I can’t give coherent justice to this great novel. What I do know is that it stands apart in my collection of noteworthy postcolonial African novels.

  • Kris
    2019-06-16 10:16

    This is the first book I have read by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and I was swept away by it. Written in 1977, Petals of Blood recreates many of the tensions in Kenya at the time. Although the book is anchored by investigation into the murder of three highly placed Kenyan officials, it is at heart a sweeping exploration of the tensions tearing apart Kenyan society: misplaced quest for wealth, modernity, and power; the continued stranglehold of Western imperialism on Kenyan society; the questions of the responsibility of the state for the community and the individual within the community; and the tensions between modern tensions and an aching for traditions, myths, history. I found Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's central characters to be well-developed, layered, and moving. The novel can be read on many levels: an indictment of Western imperialism, including through Christianity; an anxious statement of concern over the political and economic path taken by Kenya at the time; an exploration of the wide gap between the faux authenticity of Kenya's past as depicted in tourism and the richness of Kenya's true history, as shown in oral history and myth. Throughout, though, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's focus remains on individuals - the decisions they make; their dreams and aspirations set against their realities; the different paths taken by Kenyans as they negotiate the treacherous landscape of modern West Africa. It's a wonderfully written novel, highly recommended.

  • Neal Adolph
    2019-05-22 08:47

    Reading literature that is not written for your eyes is hard as a white man. So many of the narratives that I have encountered in my life, from books to movies to advertising to cultural mythologies, have been developed for me to eat up and enjoy with remarkable ease. It is quite easy for me to make it through the day without encountering much that challenges these narratives. And, even as a gay man, it is easy for me to discover just enough culture through the internet in daily doses of glitter beards and drag queens and tormented smalltown boys to feel like the world is made for me. And so reading something that isn’t written for me is difficult to do.Ngugi wa Thiong’o doesn’t write for me. He doesn’t write for the presumed white audience, for our silly simplistic liberal views of the world, for our notions of justice and our silly historical guilt as though the guilt itself can justify both our ignorance and the privilege of being ignorant. Ngugi doesn’t give a damn about me. I am nowhere in his literature, I am invisible in his world. I am relegated to a plot device in Fraudsham, to a figure who has no character, no voice, no means of explaining themself. I’m a white man - reading something that wasn’t made for me is difficult because I’m so used to reading something that is written for me.Reading something like this is an important act, though - and one of the reasons that I really enjoyed this work is that it decentered me. It, to steal Chakrabarty for a second, provincialized Europe and made Kenya the centre of the universe. I know it just reveals how privileged I am when I say this, but Ngugi wa Thiong’o startled me by putting black people - his own people - at the centre of the universe. In the process he made me realize that I, in addition to reading more books by women, I must also read more books by people of colour. By people from different regions. I must read from literary cannons that I have never learned enough about.Coming to this realization has, of course, been a long process, and it would be foolish of me to suggest that Ngugi has led me to this realization on his own. I’ve been working on adding to my shelves books from parts of the world that confound me, parts of the world that I don’t understand - regions inhabited by the billions in individual humans who have amazing stories and histories and mythologies and frustrations and joys to share which have no relation to my own or which, by my sheltered ignorance,are hidden from my small world.To this end I am glad that this is not the first of Ngugi’s books I have read, and I hope that it isn’t the only book by him that you will read (because I do think you should read this book). About four years ago I read A Grain of Wheat - which was my first book of literature from Africa written by a black African. It was a revelation to me at the time. Brilliant, intelligent, incisive, and powerful. There, as in Petals of Blood, Ngugi is dedicated to splaying open the body politic of his nation and its history. He talks about colonialism, he talks about neo-colonialism, he talks about racism, he talks about misogyny, he talks about corruption - he takes the structures of power in the world around him and reveals just how they are created and just how they reinforce themselves.Petals of Blood, though, is very different from A Grain of Wheat.Here, rather than talking about the Mau Mau Rebellion and Kenya’s incredible efforts to overcome the binds of British colonial oppression he takes his final theme of injustice and expands it into a book that is historical. He does it well, with a small but effective cast of characters - Wanja, Munira, Abdulla, Karega - all of whom have been displaced by the new independence of Kenya, and all of whom have found some sort of refuge in Ilmorog. All of whom are, at the outset of the book, suspected of murdering prominent Kenyans - the murder is the conceit which makes the story possible, but the important parts of the story, the powerful moments, are totally separate from this murder. Ilmorog becomes New Ilmorog. This transformation is fascinating, and essential, and I don’t wish to spoil it, but it hurtles forward without any level of local control and stained by the blood of corruption. It is that age-old African theme of tradition combatting modernity, and potentially losing. But Ngugi isn’t quite so thin in his thematic development to leave it there - he is a worldly man, educated, careful in his regard and precise in his admiration for justice. He sees things which are impossible to see to somebody equipped only with a frustrated anti-Colonialism. He sees things which show the great shame and sham of the post-Colonial era of African history. It is no wonder, then, that he has spent so much of his life in exile to his home land, or in prison (I can only imagine the pain of this experience for a man whose writing reveals his great love for the Kenyan landscape).Speaking of his writing, it is worth noting that Ngugi writes with incredible clarity and power, with spiked declarative phrases. He dawdles perhaps too long on ideas and descriptions and thoughts and thought processes for his characters, but they push forward. Revelation after revelation - the awakening of a human to disappointment and corruption and the potential for joy. It is tiring for the reader - it makes picking up the book a daunting task. At times the book feels like an essay in novel format. Perhaps it is.Perhaps that is where its two biggest weaknesses pop up. The first I have previously mentioned - that his original conceit - the murders - isn’t really all that important a plot device, though it does, in the end, help reveal more about one of the four suspects. The second is that all four suspects, and, indeed, all of the major characters in the novel, really are only ideas rather than characters. I wonder if I can explain this well, but I’m not sure I can say it any other way than this - its kind of the difference between an Alice Munro character as compared to a Margaret Atwood character. Atwood’s characters feel two-dimensional by comparison to Munro’s, whose numerous figures feel more human in their desires and disappointments. Ngugi straddles that closeness to humanity much better than Atwood has (as far as I can tell, anyways), but he doesn’t quite cross the fence. It is too bad - the characters are good but they feel like they are themselves devices for Ngugi to share his ideas about Kenya after it had wrestled its independence. Maybe that is their point. Maybe that is Ngugi’s approach to writing. But I wonder if the fictional aspect of his essays in novel form suffer as a result.It doesn’t suffer too much though. This is a fantastic piece of work, which demands attention. An incisive condemnation of power, its corruption, and the ways in which its many invasive tentacles crawl into our lives.

  • Alex
    2019-06-02 06:08

    Petals of Blood comes up in discussions about the most important African novels of the 20th century. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (pronunciation - if you want to pick one name, Ngũgĩ is correct) was a disciple of Chinua Achebe's, until they had a violent falling out over philosophy: Ngũgĩ decided to stop writing in English, switching to his native Kenyan language of Gikuyu. African language for African people. Achebe had a broader audience in mind. 1977's Petals of Blood was Ngũgĩ's final English work.It's a deep and intense read. Its four lead characters - weak schoolteacher Munira, activist Karega, shopkeeper and donkey aficionado Abdulla, and the woman they're all in love with, Wanja - are archetypical. One or more of them may be murderers, and the book is a mystery: who has killed three evil businessmen? The story flashes back to fill us in.Ngũgĩ's writing can be frustratingly coy. A character returns: "Five years since he went away," but you don't find out for ten pages who "he" even is. Why the obfuscation, dude? I found it difficult: it was hard to lose myself in the book, even though the plot was often exciting. There's a Dickensian sort of coincidence at work. Characters turn out to be connected in surprisingly intimate ways. (Or maybe it's not so much Dickensian as Agatha Christie-an.)Ngũgĩ carefully shows the dismantling of African culture: first by European colonialism, then by the rebels who fought it, as they take power and are in turn corrupted. The road comes, and then the banks come, and the villages never have any chance at all. This is depressing. Ngũgĩ is depressed:Imaginative literature [of Africa] was not much different: the authors described the conditions correctly: they seemed able to reflect accurately the contemporary situation of fear, oppressions and deprivation: but thereafter they led him down the paths of pessimism, obscurity and mysticism: was there no way out except cynicism? Were people helpless victims?He lays out three possible paths forward: business, socialist activism, and violence, personified by (view spoiler)[Wanja, Karega and Munira (hide spoiler)] respectively. (If there's a fourth way I missed it.) I get the impression that some combination of strategies may be his best guess for success. Dismissed entirely is the idea of staying out of it. "If you would learn look about you," he warns: "Choose your side."

  • Jeya
    2019-05-29 03:53

    At the outset it is a murder fiction. The plot unravels with an ongoing investigation of the triple murder of three socially eminent men Kimeria , Chui and Mzigo . The investigation leads us to a journey into the past ; the past of not just the prime accused Karera and Munira but also the victims Kimeria , Chui , Mzigo and the past of Africa itself. Set in nascent Kenya the novel is a pungent criticism of the erstwhile European imperialism and its cankerous impact on the African nation. It is also a stirring portrayal of continuing ethical ,cultural and political decay of a nation under neocolonialism. The language is peppered with African oral literature while faithfully registering their humble and contented lifestyle .It turns acerbic while rebuking the follies of capitalism , Morality , History , Religion , Urbanization and cultural tourism. The major characters, each fettered to a festering wound of the past , each gnawed by their inner conflicts grope to discover hope and answers in a nation moving towards dystopia. Thiong'O deftly analyses different themes through the interior monologues of the different characters.Through Wanja he explores the dubiousness of morality , through Munira he denounces the hypocrisy of religion, through Karera he chides the shallowness of a British-modeled education system , through Abdullah he exposes the futility and disillusionment of war. Thus in resonating the pain and plight of all colonized nations, Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Petals of Blood is undoubtedly one of the classics of post colonial literature.

  • Livia
    2019-05-25 04:05

    A very symbolic, yet simultaneously open critique of colonialism and the system it set in place in Kenya. It clearly outlines the path of exploitation and corruption that has so defined Kenyan politics. This is a must read for anyone coming to visit Kenya or interested in African culture and literature. It is no surprise this book was so contentious and that Ngugi was later jailed...

  • Danielle
    2019-05-21 05:50

    The most telling thing I can say about this book is that I was within 20 pages of the end and I was hungry so I got up to make myself a sandwich, and didn't finish the book until later that night.The pace of this book is slow. It has about 4 climaxes. It never really drew me in. But it has some great moments, and some interesting lessons. I see the four main characters as symbols of the four post-colonial African peasant archetypes. The prostitute, the merchant/beggar, the socialist/revolutionary, and the evangelical Christian. There are also elites in this book, but you don't ever get to know them- they are always evil, and you know from the beginning that they will burn to death in the end. The interesting thing about the four main characters is that you can see them evolve into their archetypes over time, and how their relationships with each other develop and fall apart. They aren't born into their archetypes, but circumstances and temperament lead them that way. I wish it were done in a more engrossing way.I'm glad that I read this book. I'm sad to say it took me 5 months to do that. I'm not really a slow reader. It was too easy to put aside for months at a time. Now I wonder why I loved this book when I read it for a grad school class 4 years ago- it must have been a welcome vacation from reading straight political theory.I would give it 2 1/2 stars, if possible.UPDATE: 7 years after reading this book, I'm still haunted by it and think about reading another book by Ngugi wa Thiongo. I really enjoyed his prose and characters, but the pacing and the lack of coherent narrative killed it for me.

  • Andrew
    2019-05-27 03:59

    The dedication at the start of this book reads 'To The Soviet Writers Union for giving me the use of their house in Yalta in order to finish the writing of this novel' and the writer Ngugi was imprisoned for a year in the 70's for his writing so you know as you start the book that this is not going to be an ordinary murder mystery. In fact that is the starting premise as four individuals are arrested in the mid 70's for the murder by arson of three high ranking wealthy industrialists/capitalists. The four are and odd bunch; Godfrey Munira the son of a wealthy Nairobi landowner who comes 12 years earlier to the rural village of Ilmarog from where people are escaping to teach in the empty primary school, Abdullah a disabled bar owner who we learn has been a freedom fighter in the Mau mau uprising, Karega a young idealist who becomes the assistant teacher but has a sad past with Munira's favourite sister who committed suicide, and Wanja a barmaid/ prostitute who has been the victim of sexual exploitation by one of the three murdered men. As we learn their stories we travel with them through the difficulties and changes in the village, we join them in a mission to Nairobi to beg for aid during a drought, we see the intricacies and jealousies of their relationships and watch as capitalism and a new road change the village forever and see the exploitation of the worker. The book tells us how Kenya a land that for hundreds of years was a proud nation of tribes and princes who traded with the Mediterranean powers was exploited by the colonial countries including Britain who simply took their land by the force of the gun yet after independence was won how the people are betrayed by the government and capitalism. It is definitely not a light read but it is enlightening and only reinforces the importance of the written word as a voice of protest particularly when writers sacrifice their liberty. I would recommend it if you are interested in a historical snapshot of an African country but not if you are looking for a bit of escapism.

  • Elaine
    2019-05-26 12:15

    I expect he'll get the Nobel Prize sooner or later. In this book, what starts (and ends) as a murder mystery becomes a profound look at what happened to Kenya post-independence, and to Kenyan people. This is not an easy read for people expecting a quick mystery with stereotypic characters, but by the time your done, you'll have insight into complex characters not of our culture and what shaped them. Best book I've read in several years, even though it took me a while to get into it - largely because it's not a book about Kenya by a westerner written for westerners; it's written for Kenyans by their greatest author.

  • Michael
    2019-06-12 10:02

    This is one of the first Ngugi books I read and I have to admit I enjoyed his earlier work about the Mau Mau rebellion more as I was reading it. However, looking back I see the brilliance of Petals of Blood. This work takes incredible courage. I was visiting Kenya when he first came back after decades of exile and he was attacked by thugs. To take on the corrupt post-independence regime and not just create a mythology about the heroes of independence is what makes Ngugi a master. I wish an American writer in the early years after our independence could have exposed our government with this much passion.

  • Simon
    2019-06-14 06:01

    Think of it as "Grapes of Wrath" set in Kenya. It's a highly political novel, chastising imperialism, capitalism, and corruption in Kenya, written by an author with Marxist leanings. Nevertheless, the interweaving of four people's stories leaves room for different perspectives, and the novel never descends to the level of a manifesto. I couldn't stop comparing Petals of Blood to Grapes of Wrath though, and I must plainly say that Steinbeck, taking more time to unfold a narrower story, delivers peasants' plight under capitalism much more powerful and harrowing than does Ngugi.

  • Sara Salem
    2019-06-14 10:14

    Masterpiece. He shows the slow encroachment of a whole range of forces from capitalism to 'modernity' post-independence in Kenya and does it while implicitly critiquing almost every ideological position that can be taken in such a context.

  • Aaron
    2019-05-20 12:12

    This was a tough read. Very wordy.

  • Mohamed
    2019-05-22 03:53

    رواية مملة جدا لم استطع انهائها حيث الكاتب كاره للرأسمالية ومحب للاشتراكية وكاره لكل ما هو أبيض وعاشق لكل ما هو أسودبالإضافة إلى أن الكاتب لديه القدرة أن يعيد ويزيد في نفس الكلام عن الحلم الافريقي والرجل الأبيض البغيض وأتباعهم من الخونة الأفارقة الذين باعوا أنفسهم من أجل السلطة

  • Dora Okeyo
    2019-06-06 07:04

    Ngugi's writing commands attention. This book was published in 1977 but the story was written within seven years pre-publication set in an imaginary town of Ilmorog along the Trans-Africa highway. The story revolves around four main characters: Munira, Abdulla, Karega, and Wanja all of whom meet in Ilmorog, and find themselves caught up in the failed promises of post independence in Kenya. Munira is a teacher who is posted to the school and struggles to get the basics including keeping the pupils in school. Abdulla is a shopkeeper with a stump, he has a donkey that eats more than the goats and cattle in Ilmorog and the people want to do away with it, but Abdulla cannot let go of his companion. It is the first donkey the people have seen in that place. Karega is drawn to Ilmorog, and like Munira he was expelled from one of the best boy schools in the country called Siriana. Munira appoints him as a teacher in the school and together they bring hope to the pupils in the school. Then there is Wanja, a beautiful woman who is at the center of it all, she returns home to start over and is soon the attraction of the town, but with time Munira finds that she is not just an attraction in Ilmorog but also in the city from Lawyers to Member of Parliaments. Ilmorog has an MP, but their roads are poor and no one wants to visit their small town, but when a drought hits them, they organize a troop and walk all the way to the city to meet their representative, but once there they realize that no one is out to help them and so they return disillusioned and hurt that their own MP did not care about the drought or offer any help or mercy regarding their dilemma. This opens up the world to their plight and soon investors find their way into the town, roads, a police post, businesses and the face of Ilmorog changes. But the lack of concern they experienced at the city, haunts them. You have these common people who hoped that after they fought for independence, they would have leaders who would cater to their needs. Karega asks at some point,how long shall our people continue to sweat so that a few, a given few, might keep a thousand dollars in the bank of the one monster god that for four hundred years had ravished a continent? Petals of Blood is written in form of a reminisce. Munira looks back at life in Ilmorog and how the changing times all led up to arson, and the murder of three famous businessmen and officials: Chui, Kimeria and Mzigo. It's divided into four parts each an attempt at divulging what led to the murder and who committed the crime and why. I'll say this is not a book for the faint hearted. Ngugi depicts a society destroyed by their own children. Like Wanja says it is 'eat or you are eaten,' and the release of the book is very symbolic. It's Ngugi's way of saying, 'look at what Kenya has become,' while asking "what were we fighting for? What use was Mau Mau? What happened to living as one in spite of being of different tribes?" The prose is mixed with Biblical references and Shakespearean quotes aimed at bringing the irony of fully embracing the British ways and discarding the African customs, but also showing how Kenyans who came to power used the same to oppress their own all for the sake of wealth. I started by saying that Ngugi's writing commands attention, and with this book though he points out the greed that is destroying Kenya, he is also pointing out that there are a few who still believe in what is right, whose idea of Uhuru/Freedom has not been tarnished. It is these few who are either killed for being the light, or find themselves living as bystanders only to resort to extreme measures that would have society question their sanity.

  • Jenny
    2019-06-05 06:15

    It's funny, from reading the Acknowledgments I knew what I was in for when I read his thanks to "The Soviet Writers Union for giving me the use of their house in Yalta in order to finish the writing of this novel." Written in 1977, this was a time when Communism was where it was at, right? So I figured that this would be a revolutionary anti-capitalist post-colonialist Kenya read. And it was. I didn't enjoy it as much as "Wizard of the Crow," which I really loved and would recommend highly, and more than this one. But it was still a good read if you're into that sort of thing, although a long haul. The quotes will probably give a good taste of the flavor:--"Whenever any of us is degraded and humiliated, even the smallest child, we are all humiliated and degraded because it has got to do with human beings." (p 161)--"But something had happened: the rules of the game had been questioned and everything had been altered." (p 171)--"But brooding not too far below their tranquil existence was their consciousness of the journey and the experiences which spoke of another less sure, more trouble world which could, any time, descend upon them, breaking asunder their rain-filled sun-warmed calm. They did not talk about it: but they knew, in their different ways, that things would never again be the same. For the journey had presented each with a set of questions for which there were no ready answers; had, because of what they had seen and experienced, thrown up challenges that could neither be forgotten nor put on one side, for they touched on things deep in the psyche, in their separate conceptions of what it meant to be human, a man, alive and free." (p 197)--When in a dream, one character, a teacher, meets his deceased older brother, a freedom fighter: "Karega shouts behind him: 'I want to follow you! Do you hear me? Let us journey together.' Nding'uri stops and he is now both weary and angry. 'What kind of teacher are you? Leave your children adrift? The struggle, brother, starts where you are.' He dissolves into the mist of time. And Karega feels the full impact of that last rebuke." (p 237)

  • Heather
    2019-06-06 06:14

    This book was on my shelf for a long time, one of those 'should reads' that I wasn't very inspired to pick up. Finally, I had nothing else at home to read, and I picked it up. It still felt like a 'should read' in the beginning, and I found the novel slow going, only reading a few pages a night. I couldn't relate to the characters, who seemed to just be wandering around in the story which didn't seem to be going anywhere. Then, at the very end of part one, when the community of Ilmorog decides to journey to the city to seek help for their suffering due to the drought, I was suddenly pulled into the story. As it became for me less the story of individual characters and more the story of the village/town, with the characters becoming different elements of the town, of so many small towns in so many countries, I adapted to the rhythm and begin really enjoying the read. I've never been to Kenya, but I imagined as I read so many other small towns I have been to, and thought of all the unknown and often tragic stories that must be behind each shabby concrete building or shack, the faces of the fruit sellers, the merchants, and the fat, sleek business folk, the shocks and transitions of 'development.' I still prefer by far the funnier 'Wizard of the Crow', but this is a touching book.

  • Marc
    2019-05-28 06:04

    The plot goes nowhere after the initial murder mystery dissolves into a sparsely conceived framing device, dislocated in both time and attention by the agonizingly slow progression of the main narrative, itself enacted via extended flashback. The characters are abstract and lifeless, and the novel's sociopolitical impetus, though admirable and understandable, impede the development of anything of interest. The prose is generally flavourless, if technically sound, but the descriptions of a Kenya struggling for an identity in the wake of independence are quite evocative.As a historical and cultural document, Petals of Blood is undoubtedly important, but I can't recommend it on any other grounds. As a novel, it is boring, under-conceived, and directionless, and possesses neither the stylistic strength nor the depth of character necessary to overcome those faults. Had I been less neurotic (i.e. able to stop reading anything before the end), I would never have finished reading this book; having done so, I can't say that I got anything from it that a chapter from a history book on post-independence Kenya wouldn't have more succinctly provided.

  • Tinea
    2019-05-30 10:11

    A screed against post-colonial indigenous capitalism in Kenya tucked into a character-driven story about personal relationships to power and history. Memory, passion, and perspective bias everyone so the story barely tells itself but instead is formed from the impressions of those living it. Ngugi is one of the great anti-imperialist writers and also a great novelist. This book allows the author a few moments of utopian soapboxing and revolutionary memorializing, but mostly he buries the politics under the mundane, confusing, frustrating struggle for survival, fulfillment, and love, and each character's inability to place oneself within (or against) the juggernaut of neoliberal "New Kenya". There is gender critique and contested sexual power but this is not a love story. Excellent writing. [Read for the Great African Reads book club]

  • Sisa Petse
    2019-05-17 10:06

    I’m not surprised the book is a classic and now I understand. I was engrossed by the story from start to finish. There is obviously a main character in the book like in others but novel is more about socio and political challenges in post-independence Kenya –the main protagonist here is the people and government. But I bet all Africans who lived post-independence in their own countries will find resonance.I have also learnt that after the publication of the book in late 70’s and plays that were subsequently written by this giant of African literature. Ngugi was arrested and sent to jail by the government of Kenya. After reading this book the words of Lord Halifax came true. He said: “When the people contend for their liberty, they seldom get anything by their victory but new masters.”

  • Diana
    2019-06-10 05:58

    3.5 - 4 A book laden with mysteries of the past which need discovering, and several different social aspects which emerged in independent Kenya. The reader explores the primarily rural old Ilmorog as it progresses and develops, and watches how people either eat or are eaten.Rather slow at times but everything fits neatly together in the end, so that the author's message is delivered effectively to the reader. While the African words, phrases and songs put the reader in the right Kenyan atmosphere, however for the people who are unable to understand the language, it's going to be very frustrating

  • James K/isb
    2019-06-02 05:48

    This book really touched my heart. Ngugi wa Thiong'O truly understands Kenya's Neo-colonism era and depicts the reality of ordinary Kenyan people's life during that period. Furthermore, he also mentions the legacy of the British colonialism as well as the difficulties and consequences of modernization. Overall, the hardships that ordinary Kenyan people went through in creating 'New Kenya' were mentioned throughout the book. It shattered my old conception of 'Lion King' Kenya and allowed me to see the reality and the cruelity of the new, capitalistic Kenya.

  • Lit Bug
    2019-06-01 08:15

    This is a disturbing novel with substantial violence in Kenya, and deals with issues of brutal neo-colonization. Not for the faint-hearted. Not exactly an easy, thrilling book. A moderately difficult read, because it has numerous underlying themes, interrogating Western values and our own notions of civilization and law-enforcement.

  • Rosemary
    2019-06-14 07:16

    Very interesting--riveting in places, but my eyes glazed over in other places. If a book combines a socio-political message with a fiction plot, I prefer the fiction plot to be straightforward, otherwise it can turn out like this one, with too many flashbacks to too many different events. Perhaps just not the right book at the right time.

  • Tanya
    2019-05-24 08:15

    Great twist on betrayal, greed, love and hope.Wouldn't mind reading it again.

  • Kaelyn
    2019-06-13 12:11

    Not often do I have to read a book twice in order to attempt to formulate an idea of what I want to talk about. Usually, as I read I think of the topics or themes in the novel that most interest me, and by the time I get around to writing this blog, I have a fairly coherent outline of what I want to explore. But I found a new kind of obstacle in Africa, specifically Kenya, and its literature. It’s nothing more than the fact that Kenya baffled me, both in Ngugi wa Thiong’o's Petals of Blood and in my actual brief and highly touristic sojourn there in July.Now, for a woman my age, I’m fairly well-traveled. I’ve lived in Mexico and Paris, spent some time in places like Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Ireland, and made a considerable dent in exploring my own country. But everywhere I’ve traveled has been indoctrinated in Western culture for decades if not centuries, so although there are differences in language and cuisine and landscape, etc., I’ve never found myself confronted with the stark contrasts of a non-Westernized culture. Things that I’d always heard of and considered myself familiar with, at least theoretically, like post-colonialism, the unequal distribution of wealth, the blatant corruption of political officials, the continuing Western exploitation of African resources, or the inequality of gender roles in society, hit me with all the force of a paradigm shift because here was a place where these things were glaringly apparent. Slums with millions of people living in tin and cardboard houses backed up against mansions with tennis courts and pools. Men bought wives with goats and those wives spent the rest of their lives raising as many children as they could produce. In the less urbanized, smaller villages, female circumcision is still practiced. Well-fed watalii, or tourists, traversed the country, keeping to the game reserves unless absolutely necessary, letting their eyes slide over the squalor and poverty that surrounded them, instead gushing over the lions and elephants and zebras, which are, to give credit where credit is due, truly breathtaking. I was one of those watalii, but I’m infinitely glad that I decided to read Petals of Blood before I went (and then again after), because it gave me an insight into a place that I was not previously prepared to understand, and of which I have only barely scratched the surface.Don’t worry. I’m not going to write a 10-page entry going into detail on each of the problems I encountered in Kenya, so please, keep reading. I’m just going to talk some about a couple of the themes that most interested me and that are essential components to understanding the conflict in Petals of Blood. It’s also one that is always closest to my heart: the state of women in Kenya. I don’t consider myself a feminist generally. Of course I believe that women should be treated the same as men, that preconceived notions of gender roles hurt rather than help society, and that women’s issues are something that somehow are still under attack after however many centuries humans have walked this earth, contrary to what I see as all common sense and all our faculties for reason. I consider myself a humanist. We are all equal. There should be no sides. Oops, I ranted.Wanja, who is, in my opinion, the heart of the story, struggles with her womanhood throughout, fighting against the juxtaposition between what she wants to do with her life and what reality more or less forces her to do. A bar wench turned shop assistant turned madame, Wanja often remarks on the perceived inescapability of her domination by men in connection with the transient power of her body over them. When speaking of her relationship with Karega, the young revolutionary, as compared to her past relations with other men she says: “With him it has been different…. For the first time, I feel wanted…a human being…no longer humiliated… degraded… foot-trodden” (251). For this reason, Wanja clings to her relationship with Karega, and when it fails, she makes her final descent into whoredom. “Eat or you are eaten. If you have a cunt…if you are born with this hole, instead of it being a source of pride, you are doomed to either marrying someone or else being a whore. You eat or you are eaten…. what’s the difference whether you are sweating it out on a plantation, in a factory or lying on your back, anyway?” (293). As you can probably see, Wanja is one of the more intriguing characters in the novel for her ability to see the world as it is, in all its hard truths and cruelty. She is even able to use her knowledge to her advantage, though at the cost of her body.The idea of prostitution, however, extends far beyond Wanja and the feminine condition. It is, in fact, a key component to contemporary Kenya and indeed, modern civilization, as described here:“We are all prostitutes, for in a world of grab and take, in a world built on a structure of inequality and injustice, in a world where some can eat while others can only toil, some can send their children to schools and others cannot, in a world where a prince, a monarch, a businessman can sit on billions while people starve or hit their heads against church walls for divine deliverance from hunger, yes, in a world where a man who has never set foot on this land can sit in a New York or London office and determine what I shall eat, read, think, do, only because he sits on a heap of billions taken from the world’s poor, in such a world, we are all prostituted” (240).It is in part this idea that is symbolized by the images of a flower with petals of blood, of flowering, and of blooming , that are used consistently throughout the book, and give the book its title. Our first encounter with it is innocent enough. Munira, the teacher, takes his pupils into the fields around Ilmorog, a forgotten rural village which contains most of the action in this novel, and one of his students discovers a flower with petals of blood. “No, you are wrong,” said Munira, “this color is not even red…. This is a worm-eaten flower…It cannot bear fruit…A flower can also become this color if it’s prevented from reaching the light” (22). This description in many ways describes Wanja and her fruitless desire to have a child, but as wa Thiong’o further develops his story and strives to encapsulate contemporary Kenya, the reader also sees the similarities between the struggling post-Independence nation and the infertile worm-eaten flower.On a smaller scale, the “civilization” and “modernization” of Ilmorog can also be seen as a parallel to larger Kenya. “But how can I, a mortal, help my heart’s fluttering, I who was a privileged witness of the growth of Ilmorog from its beginnings in rain and drought to the present flowering in petals of blood?” (45). Contrary to what one might assume, Ilmorog, the drought- and famine-plagued dusty village from whence all the young people flee to the city, is vastly superior to New Ilmorog, in which there is plumbing, industrialization, an economy, and roads. As with Wanja, development and growth in this story is akin to moral decay, as is, once again, personified by the petals of blood. What had the potential for beauty is rotten at the core. But this is the point that wa Thiong’o is making, in my opinion. There is no model, at least as of today, of civil/modernization that does not include its accessories: corruption among officials and positions of authority, exploitation of the poor and working classes, and an ever-widening poverty gap.Yeah, yeah, yeah, you might say. Tell me something new. Well, think of it like this (and it’s this connection that really drove this book into my consciousness): what is so different between Kenya and the U.S.? Kenya is in the process of modernization and we in many ways are modernization, but is not the majority of our wealth held by a few? Do not some of the people who supposedly have the responsibility for and the authority over us blatantly flout said responsibility? Do we not, as a people, continually attempt to bury our heads in the sand, to say “I am not responsible for other people’s actions and lives”, to blindly follow where we, as part of a democracy, should be leading? So here I am, back from Kenya to the present, and in the days before the election, this book has unexpectedly reminded me to keep my eyes open and forget about the differences between me and everyone else. The differences matter little, if at all. It’s in thinking of the similarities between us that we remember what is really important, and are thus able to envision, and work towards, a better future.For more book reviews (err... book musings?), including a trip to Kenya itself, visit my blog For Love and Allegory at http://www.forloveandallegory.wordpre...

  • Umar Paswal
    2019-06-17 04:54

    This book isn’t necessarily about Kenya, it can be set in most post-colonial countries in Asia and Africa. The story is about the struggle against the European colonial power, and after achieving that success, things going sour. The Europeans are physically gone but they still control Kenya through other means—money, power, the world economic system that they have created. It’s different kind of colonialism.The book is set in small town that is losing its young to bigger cities. The town is at the mercy of nature with droughts severely impacting life. People want development and progress. But when that development eventually does come, it brings unintended consequences. People lose their land to banks and rich millionaires control everything. Many who earlier struggled against European colonialists are part of the new elite. They are using the poor same way Europeans used and controlled Kenyans. The change or development has only benefitted few, and for many in small towns like the one in book, at least one thing they had before—their identity—they have lost that too.

  • Vincent de Paul
    2019-06-07 10:08

    Literary pundits and Ngugi fans, please don't thirst for my blood or send goons to finish me off. I'm sorry to say that I'm finding Ngugi books kind of a drag for me. This is the second book of Ngugi I am not finishing in a span of one year. Even after skipping several pages occasionally still I didn't make it past P.90. I'm stopping right there ... I have read the voluminous Game of Thrones series without skipping even a word, but this --- I liked Wanja more by the way; and Munira is kinda ostentatious; Karega and Abdulla, don't know what to say about them. No one can unsit Ngugi from his literary seat in the world, I don't know why it just doesn't click for me.

  • Tineke Dijkstra
    2019-05-21 10:09

    There’s no denying it: Thiong’o is a genius. He knows what he’s talking about. Petals of Blood is a well written piece of work filled to the brim with interesting ideas, critique and opinions. But what’s always confronting about Thiong’o’s works for me is that I’m clearly not part of his target audience. His works take me a long time (this one took me a month), despite the fact that I am experienced in reading African literature. His works are packed with cultural references, Swahili and Gikuyu. It does the trick, but it sometimes makes me feel that there is SO MUCH I’m missing in my reading experience.

  • Stephen Hunt
    2019-05-20 11:14

    Excellent read. The tensions of the new-Kenya presented in this book echo today across much of the region. However, it's eerily reticent of the important movement of a 'return to culture' emerging among more contemporary African literature. I am a big fan of Ngugi's work, particularly Decolonising the Mind, and Petals of Blood is a clear example and standard which invites the reader to understand theimportance of this need to recenter out language and literature in the place and space it is coming from and to whom it is focusing on.