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Petals of Blood

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,198 Ratings  ·  102 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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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
Jun 05, 2012 Kris rated it it was amazing
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
Neal Adolph
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 ...more
Jul 02, 2012 Alex rated it really liked it
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.

Aug 30, 2012 Jeya rated it it was amazing
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
May 03, 2010 Livia rated it really liked it
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...
Apr 06, 2007 Danielle rated it liked it
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
Jun 25, 2014 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 06, 2012 Elaine rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 01, 2011 Michael rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
Jul 29, 2011 Simon rated it liked it
Shelves: english, novel, owned
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
Sara Salem
Mar 25, 2015 Sara Salem rated it it was amazing
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.
Mar 27, 2012 Aaron rated it it was ok
This was a tough read. Very wordy.
Dora Okeyo
Feb 16, 2016 Dora Okeyo rated it really liked it
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 pupil
Sep 21, 2009 Jenny rated it liked it
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
Mar 16, 2013 Heather rated it really liked it
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
Feb 19, 2014 Marc rated it it was ok
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
Jun 17, 2012 Tinea rated it really liked it
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
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
Jan 23, 2016 Diana rated it really liked it
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 atmospher
James K/isb
Sep 20, 2010 James K/isb rated it really liked it
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
Lit Bug
Mar 20, 2013 Lit Bug rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 23, 2016 Rosemary rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-books
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.
Jun 29, 2012 Kaelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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We're off to a bad start from the dedication, with thanks to the Soviet writer's union for the use of their house in Yalta. I try not to give books bad reviews because I don't like the politics, but the late 1970s is far past the point where I can accept romantic-blindness to the faults of the USSR from a novelist. But after that dedication, what really surprises is how insipid the politics turns out to be. I don't think I've read a book which was trying so hard to make a political point whilst ...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
Aug 19, 2007 SueEllen rated it liked it
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
Apr 23, 2008 Libby rated it liked it
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
Sep 15, 2010 wally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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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
More about Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o...

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“This land used to yield. Rains used not to fail. What happened?’ inquired Ruoro. It was Muturi who answered. ‘You forget that in those days the land was not for buying. It was for use. It was also plenty, you need not have beaten one yard over and over again.” 7 likes
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