Writer: Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1938-present)
Setting: Time setting: After the independence of Kenya
Place setting: North central Kenyan town of Ilmorog
Genre: Political fiction, Novel.
Themes: Corruption, Capitalism, Land, Education, Village vs City, Struggle for Independence, Christianity, Oppression.
Moral: The best thing to do, is to learn from these leaders, take the good and ignore the bad.
Munira: School teacher. He falls in love with Wanja
Wanja: Granddaughter of Nyakinyua. She falls in love with Karega, although she is still coveted by Munira. She also sleeps with Abdulla .
Abdulla – A shopkeeper
Karega – Young man who works as a teaching assistant at Munira’s school .
Nyakinyua – The village’s most revered woman, and the grandmother of Wanja.
Kimeria – Ruthless businessman who is part of the new Kenya elite.
Chui – a schoolboy at the prestigious, previously European Siriana school.
Nderi wa Riera – the local politician for Ilmorog’s district.
Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote Petals of Blood after Kenya’s independence. Through this novel he criticized the colonial rule. The novel’s title is taken from a line in Derek Walcott’s poem “The Swamp”.
The novel begins with a final part. In the first, a school teacher and two businessmen are described as having died in a fire. Inspector Godfrey suspects Munira about this.
Then the beginning of the novel is presented. Some people from the city keep coming to Ilmrog village. School teacher Munira is one of them. There he met the local bar-owner Abdullah. Abdullah was a fighter in the Mau Mau rebellion. Munira is best friends with Abdullah’s adopted younger brother Joseph.
Another refugee arrives in Wanja village. She was the granddaughter of a respected man of Ilmrog village. She takes a job at his bar to help Abdullah. Munira realizes she is in love with Wanja and Wanja reciprocates somewhat. But when he comes to know that Munira is married, he no longer has a relationship.
Meanwhile, Munira’s former colleague Karega also comes to the village to teach at the school. That year the villagers faced great hardship due to extreme heat, drought, low crop production etc. That’s why Karega took the villagers to Nairobi to raise the issue in Parliament.
It was a long journey. Along the way, Joseph becomes very ill. They reach Nairobi and seek help for him. A minister mistook them for beggars and turned them away. Finally, they are given a place in a rich man’s house. They are interrogated by the owner of the house, Kimeria, who is an unscrupulous businessman. He explains to the villagers that he and their MP are allies. He demands that he take over Joseph’s treatment in exchange for spending the night with Wanja, and does so.
Villagers go to meet their MPs anyway. They see him as a leader who has no interest in their plight. However, a lawyer in Nairobi took an interest in their case, advanced it through the courts and attracted the attention of the national press. As a result, journalists and charity workers focused on the disease.
When the rains finally come, the villagers celebrate with ritual dances. A villager named Nyakinyua makes a strong traditional drink made from the thang’eta plant. All the villagers drink it. This prompts Karega to confess to Munira that he had an affair with Munira’s older sister Mukami. Karega’s brother was involved in the Mau Mau rebellion. Because of this, Munira and Mukami’s father forced her to leave Karega. This was the real reason for Mukami’s suicide.
A plane crashes in the village. Miraculously none but Abdullah’s donkey dies in the accident. Many people come to see the ruins and, as suggested by Wanja, they capitalize on the crowd by selling Thang’eta drinks at Abdullah’s bar. The drink became a notorious attraction in the village, and tourists started going there to drink it. Soon, Wanja started a factory to make drinks.
Karega and Wanja start to love each other. Munira, jealous, plans to expel Karega from the school. Karega was forced to leave Ilmorog.
The government began building a new road—the Trans-Africa Road—through the village The village expanded rapidly and soon became a town. Farmers in old villages are advised to fence and mortgage their lands, so they can prove they own them. Banks lend against their crops to pay for this work. When Nyakinyua died the bank moved to seize his land. So Wanj sold his brewery to buy Nyakinyua’s land. There she opened a brothel and eventually began working as a prostitute.
Karega returns to the village. Wanja is told that after leaving his village he got a job in a factory. But he was fired from there due to his involvement in drinking. Although they still love each other, they cannot agree on how to live in the new Kenya. Karega leaves again. Munira tries to rekindle their relationship, but Wanja asks her to pay. He does so, and they meet.
Wanja devises a plan to free herself from the men involved in her prostitution. He invites everyone including Karega and Kimeria to the brothel. Her plan is to present Abdullah to them as her chosen life partner. However, Munira notices Kaerga coming and leaves again. Out of jealousy, he sets the brothel on fire. The other men die, Wanja is hospitalized. Inspector Godfrey charges Munira with arson and is imprisoned.