Customer Reviews: Petals of Blood
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on November 17, 2003
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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on February 20, 2001
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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on November 8, 2000
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. He contrasts the innocence and wisdom of the village with the political opportunism, religious hypocrisy, and rampant cronyism of modern Kenya. That's not exactly an original theme but Ngugi describes it well.
While I valued the book for its insights into the dilemmas and disappointments of post-independence governance, I put it down more discouraged than uplifted. Perhaps it is unfair to ask Ngugi to do more than just paint the picture for us, but the novel would arguably have had a greater impact if it had given us greater hope and reason to believe that things can indeed change for the better.
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VINE VOICEon June 6, 2007
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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This 1977 book was the choice of my international reading group at my local bookstore. It's a dense 410 pages long and tells the story of the traumatic transitions in Kenya as it shrugged off the bonds of British colonialism only to be trapped in the same kind of situation when the leaders were Kenyan. It is heavily philosophical and I found it a dense and often confusing read. It was hard for me to keep the characters straight and the tone of the book was totally depressing.

This is a story of oppression and it is weighed down with despair. I learned a lot from this book but I must admit that I breathed a sigh of relief when it was over.
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on April 14, 2007
A most impressive book. Chinua Achebe said that through fiction you may not be able to tell fact but through fiction you can tell truth. This novel transcends post colonial Africa; it's a commentary on the universal human condition. The forces of greed corruption exploitation transcend borders. The bosses will be served. Well done Ngugi Wa Thiong'o.
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on April 7, 2014
Petals of Blood opens with the arrest of Godfrey Munira, a schoolteacher, as a suspect in the murder of three African brewery executives in the Kenyan town of Ilmorog. As Munira makes his statement to the investigator, the history of this once-tiny village unfolds and with it the lives of Munira and others.

The principal time frame of this complex novel is the mid 1960s to early 1970s, comprising Kenya's early years of independence from Great Britain. Through the lives and thoughts of the inhabitants of Ilmorog we see the exhilaration of freedom turn to disillusionment as Kenya's native rulers and businessmen simply maintain the pattern of exploitation that the English established under colonialism. The villagers, in the face of drought and famine, organize collective action to seek relief, only to see those in power try to turn the misfortunes of others to their political and financial advantage. Every attempt at local initiative or free enterprise is crushed by those who have sold out to American and European corporate interests.

Ngũgĩ's political message is so pointed and direct that he was imprisoned after the novel's publication. The author does quite a bit of preaching, which stands somewhat in the way of the novel's working as a piece of fiction. He doesn't recommend specific action steps other than to follow the teachings of Lenin and Mao and the examples of Cuba, Angola, Mozambique, Egypt, and other socialist states.

This is an important and memorable book with a message well worth heeding. As a novel, however, I didn't find it as enjoyable as Ngũgĩ's earlier less convoluted works.
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on April 14, 2014
Petals of Blood is a jarring and unsettling portrayal of life in post-colonial Kenya. Its publication was so controversial that the government arrested and imprisoned the author, Ngugi wa Thion’o, without any charges. As a novel, it stands as one of Ngugi’s most political and complex books. It follows the intertwining story of three characters who include Munira, a school teacher; Abdullah, a bar owner; Wanja, the barmaid; and Karega, Munira’s teaching assistant. Their stories weave together as a result of the Mau Mau rebellion, and they all find refuge from city life in the small village of Illmorog. These characters are forced to deal with the repercussions of the rebellion and the lingering effects of colonialism and westernization. Eventually, the story leads up to the mysterious murder of three directors of a foreign-owned brewery, in which all four characters become suspects. The novel’s conclusion paints a haunting picture of a country struggling to find its identity even after it has gained its independence.

Ngugi writes the novel almost like a detective story in a series of flashbacks and police questionings, beginning with the arrest of all four murder suspects on the night in question. This structure allows the reader piece together the details of the incident, the motives of each character, and who is guilty or innocent. Some readers may find the plot a bit more difficult to follow, but it forces its audience to consider not only the murder but also the issue of colonialism from a variety of angles. The depth of this analysis is astounding, displaying the power of Ngugi’s talent as a writer and a critic. Anyone who is interested in post-colonialism or African literature should read this book.
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on August 20, 2012
This book dissects a lot of complex political formations; from colonialism, capitalism, to it's final stage, neocolonialism, as well as his message of Pan-Africanism. It is done in a very beautiful way, an African way. Not only a book from a very gifted writer but of a political genius as well. This book is a must read.
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on January 13, 2011
In a biting critique of the "New Kenya," Ngugi challenges the pillars of modern society in general.

When the modern world forces itself into the Ilmorog, each of the town's inhabitants must face it in its own way. Each step to coping with the modern world informs the inhabitants that they have thrown off the British yoke merely to replace it with an African one. Capitalism, European Religion and European education still dominate Kenya but merely have Africans syphoning off the wealth of the people.

Three African directors of an Anglo-German Brewery - the turncoat revolutionary, the Western school superintendent and the African headmaster of a private school - are murdered. The four suspects are each critics of the New Kenya in their own way.

Ngugi further critiques the modern world by even critiquing the critiques. The Marxist, the Revolutionary, the Capitalist Woman and the Evangelical cannot challenge the New Kenya since they themselves are still missing something real for they had not yet - as Ngugi once termed it - "Decolonized the Mind."

I would put this with the best of Ngugi that I have read. Not as good as Wizard of the Crow but on par with A River Between. 4 Stars!
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