Saturday, January 17, 2009

Petals of Blood / Ngugi wa Thiong’o -- New York, NY: Penguin, 1977.

A couple of years ago I read another novel by Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Wizard of the Crow, which I found to be an extraordinarily gripping and brilliant political novel. So it was with high expectations that I picked up the celebrated Kenyan author’s earlier work, Petals of Blood. The novel opens as a murder mystery but does not function as one. Those who were murdered develop as characters very little and much later in the novel, and Ngugi does not build much suspense around solving the mystery of who murdered them. Petals of Blood is not as gripping as Wizard of the Crow and moves quite slowly for the first third. However, in the second two thirds of the books, a handful of very well developed characters from a remote village in Kenya engage in some interesting and revealing dilemmas. Although the novel may have been shocking in its time, political corruption in Africa is not news today. Petals of Blood remains an excellent novel, however, not only for its beautiful writing but also as a meditation on the dynamics of power and development.

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