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Petals of Blood Paperback – February 22, 2005

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Editorial Reviews


"Ambitious, caustic, and impassioned." —The New Yorker

"A mind-blowing political statement, an anguished cry of despair... a bombshell." —The Weekly Review, Kenya

About the Author

Ngugi wa Thiong’o was born in Limuru, Kenya, in 1938. One of the leading African writers and scholars at work today, he is the author of many novels, short stories, essays, a memoir, and several plays, and recipient of numerous high honors. Currently he is Distinguished Professor in the School of Humanities and director of the International Center for Writing and Translation at the University of California, Irvine.

Moses Isegawa was born in Uganda and is the author of the novels Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (February 22, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143039172
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143039174
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #99,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Gail Moore on November 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
Set in Kenya but could be a prototype for a native culture anywhere colonized, breaking free, then globalized which is an extension of colonialism. It is easy to understand why the author was imprisoned after the book's publication in 1977 as he presents a bleak view of what the Kenyans got in the way of leaders after independence from the white rulers. The viewpoint here seems to be anyone "for the people" is assassinated, those that stay in power are stinking rich doing business with the former white rulers and selling out their own people.
The story opens with a brief introduction of the four main characters - Munira, Abdulla, Wanja and Karega - a triple murder has just taken place, 3 leading millionaire government officials of the city of Ilmorog were burned to death in their beds. We are then taken back twelve years in time to when Munira arrived in the sleepy, dusty village of Ilmorog to teach school, The four friends meet and we hear their individual stories, how they change over the years but more so how the place called Ilmorog changes, from a dusty village to a modern urban centre, and the effect on people who lived there for generations.

I found the book very dense reading at first, there so many African names introduced, also the style of writing with many flashback is challenging, but before page 100 I was sailing along and could hardly put the book down. There are many layers to this novel, it is a book about Africa, about the world history of black people in general, globalization, colonialism, and a murder mystery as well, the arsonist responsible for the triple murder is revealed to us by the end.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Olumide Ogunremi on February 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is a multilayered and fascinating book that addresses various problems in post-independence Kenya.What starts as a murder investigation with the detention of 4 people Munira,Abdullah,Karega and Wanja goes on to reveal issues such as corruption,politics,Urbanisation,social dislocation,colonialism,the emergency period and the African elite.As the novel unfolds the lives of the 3 people murdered entwines that of the detainees in numerous ways.It is also a who dunnit.The detainees are Munira- a teacher,Abdullah-an intinerant trader,Karega- a trade unionist and Wanja a scarlet lady..It is set mainly in the rustic village of Ilmorog in Kenya that later becomes a boomtown.Ngugi tells not only the story of Kenya but that of Africa and other colonised peoples worldwide.It is indeed as relevant today as it was in 1977 when published.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Bill Jackson on November 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
It's not hard to see why Ngugi's Petals of Blood was so controversial in his native Kenya. Written in 1977, it is an angry cry against the betrayal of the independence struggle. The main characters each come to terms with the harsh disappointments of modern Kenya, a place that, in Ngugi's depiction, is dominated by corrupt businessmen and politicians who have quickly and conveniently forgotten the high ideals of the revolt they waged to expel the British.
Petals is set in Ilmorog, a village in upcountry Kenya so far from the beaten path that it does not even have a primary school. Munira, a schoolteacher, is sent there to set up such a school. The book opens twelve years after his arrival, as he is arrested in connection with the death of three leading officials in a suspicious fire. Much of the rest of the story is then told as a flashback, with Munira recounting the events unfolding from his arrival all the way up to the deadly fire. Among the other leading characters are Karega, an earnest but unsophisticated schoolteacher who evolves into a formidable union organizer; Wanja, a spirited, alluring "bar girl" and sometime entrepreneur who is the driving force in the plot and a love interest for Munira and Karega; and Abdulla, the crippled shopkeeper with a mysterious past. Although all four are transplants in Ilmorog, having been born and raised elsewhere, it is through their efforts that Ilmorog is "put on the map," a process that initially brings great benefits but ultimately leads to tragedy.
Ngugi probably intends Ilmorog's transformation as both a metaphor for and a microcosm of the moral decline of Kenya from the high hopes of post-independence to the business-as-usual corruption and thuggery of a generation later.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By David Evans VINE VOICE on June 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
Primary schoolteacher Godfrey Munira requests a posting at a far-away, rural location, hoping to escape his feelings of failure, his disappointment with himself. He is sent to the village of Ilmorog, where he crosses paths with Wanja, a beautiful bargirl come to live with her grandmother; Abdullah, a former freedom fighter who now runs a small shop and bar; and later Karega, a former student expelled from a prestigious secondary school for participating in a strike, then reduced to selling petty wares to tourists. These four friends (and sometimes lovers and sometimes rivals) participate with the native residents of Ilmorog through ups and downs, through drought and urbanization.

The principal theme of the book is disillusionment with independence, which replaced a few elite whites tightly holding power and money in Kenya with ... a few elite blacks holding power and money in Kenya. And as Ilmorog develops, just as in Kenya's post-independence transition, those who fought longest for change aren't those who see the benefits. The theme is not a happy one, and the novel holds out no clear solution (one character finds religion, another finds alcoholism, a third finds labor unions - and incredible hostility towards them by those in power) but it reflects true frustration on the part of many unable to climb out of abject poverty.

Thiongo's writing style is not swift-moving or action-packed, but the early pace reflects the pace of life in Ilmorog, and the action picks up as does life in the small town. Pushing through the slower parts is worthwhile: this book feels true to the frustration of many of Kenya's (and Africa's) poorest, disillusioned and searching for hope. Sometimes Thiong'o preaches too obviously through his characters, but the complaints are not his alone.
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