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Petals of Blood

by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o

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7551429,291 (3.9)1 / 183
"The puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. It is--on the surface--a suspenseful investigation of a triple murder. But 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"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)
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I dragged my feet with this book for a long time. The character sketches were phenomenal, but something about the style kept me at a distance and it was a great effort to keep turning pages. Even being laid up during the covid-19 lockdown didn't help. Have to mark as 'abandoned'. ( )
1 vote ManWithAnAgenda | May 26, 2020 |
The much-admired Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o (b.1938) has been on my radar for quite a while because this novel Petals of Blood was listed in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die and contributor Andrew Blades from Oxford describes it as
… a fiery and impassioned epic that is an outstanding modern example of politically committed fiction. (1001 Books to Read Before You Die, ABC Books, 2006, p.666)

So Petals of Blood was on my wishlist/TBR long before I knew that Ngũgĩ has been touted as a possible winner of the Nobel Prize. But when I read The River Between a few weeks ago, I was a bit startled to find that there were aspects of that novel which irked my feminist sensibilities (see my review). I was dubious about Ngũgĩ presenting the right to undertake FGM (female genital mutilation) as an assertion of traditional Kenyan identity over colonialist Christian determination to stamp it out. I thought that the barbaric practice of FGM was an odd symbol for Ngũgĩ to choose – somewhat analogous to championing Aztec human sacrifice as a legitimate symbol of traditional rites that Spanish colonisers had no right to change. Well, as it turns out, I have reservations about Petals of Blood too…

To summarise a book of 400+ pages briefly, the plot, such as it is, revolves around four characters, Munira, Abdulla, Kagera and Wanja. At the beginning of the book, the first three are arrested in connection with the murder of three powerful businessmen, and Wanja is in hospital fighting for her life. The recollections and reflections of Munira the evangelical schoolteacher form the basis of the narrative: he tells the story of Abdulla – a one-legged former freedom fighter turned merchant now reduced to beggary; Kagera the promising student turned activist-revolutionary; and Wanja, a woman victimised because of her sexuality who then exploits it herself to become a prostitute and a hard-hearted brothel madam.

1001 Books has this to say:
In differing ways [these four characters] embody the difficulties of resisting the decadence, corruption and self-aggrandisement at the core of the new political regimes. Munira acts out of a sense of religion and sexual jealousy and this blunts his political efficacy. Abdulla is an ex-revolutionary fighter maimed in the 1950s rebellion and able in the end to transform only his own circumstances. Wanja, a prostitute, fails to overcome the creed of “eat or be eaten” that is the moral law in the new Kenya. Finally, Karega, a revolutionary figure, is the character seemingly favoured by Ngũgĩ as the only possible salvation for the hopes of the Kenyan people. (1001 Books to Read Before You Die, ABC Books, 2006, p.666)

The acknowledgements at the front of the book include the Soviet Writers Union who lent Ngũgĩ the use of a house at Yalta to finish writing the MS, so perhaps I should not have been surprised to see elements promoting communist ideology as Kenya’s salvation. Still, I was taken aback to see Cambodia listed among people’s revolutions where workers and peasants have liberated their countries – but it was a salutary reminder that this book was first published in 1977. Ngũgĩ could not have known then about Pol Pot’s murderous regime when he listed China, Cuba, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Guinea, Mozambique>/I> as places that Munira’s young acolyte Joseph admires. Still, the critique of capitalism is hardly nuanced...

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2018/05/13/petals-of-blood-by-ngugi-wa-thiongo-bookrevi...
( )
2 vote anzlitlovers | May 13, 2018 |
I found [Petals of Blood] a challenging read. There is for the majority of the novel a pervasive sense of hopelessness about the ubiquitous corruption. ( )
  brakketh | May 7, 2017 |
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 effect heroism that is oversimplified. The myth of Mau Mau "freeing Kenya" and the supposed resulting debt of all Kenyans to the Kikuyu as a result has cast its own ugly shadow over independent Kenya up to the present time. ( )
  kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
Some novels can make you laugh; some can make you cry. Just occasionally they can make you angry.

There was little to laugh at in Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. This is a book designed to evoke quite a different set of reactions, a book it would be difficult to read and not feel frustrated, exasperated and even outraged.

This is a novel about disillusionment; about the loss of the ideal of independence and the destruction of hope; about betrayal and hypocrisy and about the triumph of corruption over humanity. So incendiary was this novel at the time of its publication in 1977 that its author was imprisoned without charges by a Kenyan government sensitive to criticism of its manner of ruling their newly-independent nation. His arrest provoked a worldwide protest and led to his adoption by Amnesty International as a Prisoner of Conscience.

Petals of Blood opens with the arrest and detention of four people from the village of Ilmorog. It's a village geographically remote from the centre of government and remote from the minds of those who form that government. Ilmorog

One night three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery in the village are murdered in an arson attack. Four suspects are quickly arrested and detained for questioning: Munira, the headmaster of the village's small school; Karega his assistant teacher, Abdullah, the crippled owner of the local store and Wanja the beautiful, spirited barmaid/shop assistant. The four are linked to each other through friendship, to the fortunes of Ilmorog and the fortunes of Kenya itself.

Ngugi uses these four characters to unfold a human drama, telling the story in flashback to twelve years before the fire when Munira had arrived in Ilmorog to set up the school. Through the individual stories of the quartet we discover their past disappointments and frustrations with post independent Kenya motivate them to push for change. When the rains fail, the crops wither and the villagers begin to die, they hatch a plan to lead the villagers on a long walk to Nairobi, to lobby their elected officials for help.

"...it was they outside there who ought to dance to the needs of the people. Now it seemed that authority, power, everything, was outside Ilmorog... out there....in the big city. They must go and confront that which had been the cause of their empty granaries, that which had sapped their energies, and caused their weakness. Long ago when their cattle and goats were taken by hostile nations, the warriors went out, followed them and would not return until they had recovered their stolen wealth. Now Ilmorog's own heart ad been stole. They would follow to recover it. It was a new kind of war... but war all the same."

The walk confronts them with an even harsher reality. Modern Kenya 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. No-one in this new order, neither church or state, cares about the plight of the people of a remote village. Despised and patronised but with all appeals for help rejected, they return home dejected.

The exodus is an emotive set piece which symbolises the moral decline that Ngugi sees permeate the country. But in case we didn't quite understand his point, he uses the second half of the novel to reinforce the message. The efforts of the villagers to draw attention to their community have unfortunate consequences which render them vulnerable to commercial opportunism, political expediency and religious hypocrisy.

By the end, the four friends feel a sense of betrayal by those in power. Yet despite the personal losses they suffer, they never lose their faith that one day, Kenya will fulfil its true destiny. This time it will be a country run by the people themselves.

"Tomorrow it would be the workers and the peasants leading the struggle and seizing power to overturn the system of all its preying bloodthirsty gods and gnomic angels, bringing to an end the reign of the few over the many and the era of drinking blood and feasting on human flesh. Then, only then,would the kingdom of man and woman really begin, joying and loving in creative labour."

Political corruption, social injustice, the struggle for freedom are not not uncommon themes in African literature. But Petals of Blood is one of the most strongly narrated indictments of a regime that assumed power with a promise of ending the inequality of its colonial masters only to perpetuate the same oppressions and divisions. Little wonder those in power were too afraid to let this author continue unfettered in his critique.

The Verdict

A truly remarkable novel. Difficult at times to read unless you are familiar with the country's history. But it's passionate depiction of the corrupting influence of power blended with some wonderfully portrayed characters, make this a compelling book. ( )
1 vote Mercury57 | Jan 5, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'oprimary authorall editionscalculated
Isegawa, MosesIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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They came for him that Sunday.
Ng’enda thi ndiagaga mutegi: that which is created by men can also be changed by men
"The trouble with slogans or any saying without a real foundation is that it can be used for anything. Phrases like Democracy, the Free World, for instance, are used to mean their opposite. It depends, of course, on who is saying where, when and to whom." -Karega
He now put the question to himself: what did the children really think of him? Then he dismissed it with another: what did it matter one way or the other? He had taught for so many years now—teaching ready-made stuff must be in his blood—and one did all right as long as one was careful not to be dragged into…into…an area of darkness…Yes…darkness unknown, unknowable…like the flowers with petals of blood and questions about God, law…things like that. He could not teach now: he dismissed the class a few minutes before time and went back to the house.
“…all ways for the poor go one way. One-way traffic: to more poverty and misery. Poverty is sin. But imagine. It is the poor who are held responsible for the sin that is poverty and so they are punished for it by being sent to hell.” –Abdulla
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"The puzzling murder of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery sets the scene for this novel about disillusionment in independent Kenya. It is--on the surface--a suspenseful investigation of a triple murder. But 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"--P. [4] of cover.

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