Petals of Blood
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Petals of Blood

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  768 ratings  ·  72 reviews
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 dev...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published February 22nd 2005 by Penguin Classics (first published 1977)
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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 r...more
Dec 31, 2007 Danielle rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: african lit enthusiasts
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/revolutionar...more
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...more
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 al...more
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 bec...more
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 Ameri...more
This was a tough read. Very wordy.
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...more
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 t...more
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
Sisa Petse
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...more
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 p...more
James K/isb
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 se...more
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...
Lit Bug
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.
Emily Hughes
Hard to get into in the beginning- but by the end it was a tragic and violent flipping of pages.
I read this book very slowly, so I don't know if my collected understanding was there- just so much injustice and corruption in Kenya post Mau Mau 1960's. Does it still exist today as it is shown on Western news?

Some insightful quotes

'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 onl...more
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 i...more
Dani Golomb
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
i read this one in '87, at lsu, course called..."third world literature". you don't hear that much anymore, "third world" and even then, in '87, it was falling out of usage. when we stop using it? some of us, yesterday? "developing nations" is a go now. houston, we have "developing nations".

what i found intriguing about this one, along with others we read--waiting for the barbarians, the beautyful ones are not yet born, mine boy, midnight's children...a few others that escape that:

you t...more
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 up...more
May 24, 2008 Libby rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: African Lit Students, socialists
This book is very much a transitional novel by a great writer on his way to becoming legendary. Framed as a mystery story, Ngugi Wa Thiong’s 1977 book weaves the interrogations and recollections of four people suspected of involvement in a deadly fire. The result is a damning indictment of post-colonial government in Kenya. The narrative is well-crafted, and the characterization, while somewhat broad, is nonetheless compelling and sympathetic for the four main characters, whose futile attempts t...more
I was fortunate to see Kenyan writer wa Thiong'o Ngugi at a recent reading at Brown University. Not only did I get to hear the proper pronunciation of his name (!) but I was more importantly able to listen to him read from his newest novel "Wizard of the Crow." After that reading I was inspired to pick up my copy of "Petals of Blood." This novel suffered from a bit dated Marxist agenda and caricatured main characters. Not to say that there were not any complexities or meaningful storylines, but...more
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 politic...more
I read Petals of Blood about 13 years ago. I was in primary school and I found the book among my sister's belongings. I had no idea Ngugi was a famous author. I just thought that since I'm Kenyan, and it was a book by a Kenyan then I should read it.

I was mesmerised by the story, and I identified with dusty Ilmorog. Ilmorog is much like my town, poor and forgotten. Wanja is like many women I know (even though Ngugi has been accused of negatively portraying women).

He described places I've been t...more
Gijs Grob
Politieke roman rond het dorpje Ilmorog in Kenia en vier mensen die zich daar vestigen: de schuchtere, gelovige onderwijzer Minura, de door het leven getekende Wanja, de idealistische Karega en de manke, zwijgzame Abdullah. Langzaam ontrafelen rond ieder van hen hun achtergronden, hun verhoudingen en hun confrontaties met de geld- en machtspolitiek die Kenia sinds de onafhankelijkheid bleven beheersen en die gepersonifieerd worden in de - onzichtbaar blijvende - machtige schurken Chui, Kimeria e...more
It might be blasphemy for one of my background to say this about "the quintessential African book of the 20th century" but I just couldn't get into it. The book was a perfect portrayal of nearly everything I've seen in Kenya, but that didn't make the story good or the characters compelling. Read it for a vivid, emotional account of modernization in East Africa, but not for an interesting story. I really wanted to praise this book, and I know Ngugi was instrumental in the revival of community the...more
It's been a while since I've read this, and I was torn between 3 and 4 stars because of that, and not remembering precisely how I felt about it when I read it. That being said, this post-colonial novel written by N'gugi wa Thiongo, a Kenyan, set in Kenya, is fascinating in part because of its structure. It deals with issues of traditionalism versus modernism, encroaching westernization in post-colonial rural Kenya, and personal character struggles, through the lense of being structured in the st...more
This is a classic of African post-colonial literature. Written as a sort of parable, but with realistic characters, the book traces some of the disappointments and failures of independance in Kenya, seen largely through the characters in a small central Kenyan town who long to participate in the "new" Kenya but find the way to prosperity blocked by greed and corruption. One complaint I have is Wa Thiongo's mythmaking concerning the role of MauMau in Kenyan independance. He portrays a cause and e...more
I wish I wasn't writing this review four years later - but most of what I can remember now are the emotions that this book stirred up. I read it while in Kenya and I felt it gave me an incredible sense of history and context for the country, in a powerful heart-wrenching way. Following the story and the changes of the little village of Ilmorog over time (and the people that live there) gave me a macro perspective of development that is usually too stretched out and abstract to entertain and see....more
africawrites  - The RAS' annual festival of African Literature
This 1977 work from Kenya's most celebrated writer follows the lives of 4 friends, all of whom have escaped the urban corruption of post-colonial Nairobi to live in the up-country village of Ilmorog. Much of the novel is told through flashbacks, examining the lives of Munira, Karega, Wanja, and Abdulla and the overall effect is a powerful critique of forces shaping the country, notably the capitalism of the country's elite - Ngugi was an avowed socialist. Petals of Blood is an essential part of...more
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Kenyan teacher, novelist, essayist, and playwright, whose works function as an important link between the pioneers of African writing and the younger generation of postcolonial writers. After imprisonment in 1978, Ngũgĩ abandoned using English as the primary language of his work in favor of Gikuyu, his native tongue. The transition from colonialism to postcoloniality and the crisis of modernity ha...more
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