I read the novel I am going to talk about more than ten years ago. Back then, reading took most of my leisure time.
The setting of Petals of Blood, Heinemann, 1977
Part of the novel, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, takes place in Nairobi and it has its other setting in a village called Ilmorog. The later is more of a Keynian countryside where three persons have come at different moments. They did not know each other and it’s as though fate has brought them together.
The main characters
Munira (who is semetimes the narrator) is a teacher at Primary School and man of God.
Wanja is a barmaid (in the Police station of Ilmorog, she is known as a prostitute).
Abdulla is a trader and Karega is a teacher and a trade-unioniste.
People burnt to death
What was a trigger for the investigation was that three people were burnt to death and Wanga also was taken to the hospital. Then, Munira and Abdulla have been called in by the Police for questioning. The officer in charge of the investigation asked Munira to make a statement that might help find out the murderer.
Can the situation be helped?
The statement (a narrative) actually allows us to learn a great deal about Ilmorog and we also learn about Kenya’s history (it’s a former British colony) its colonial rule and mentality.
Ilmorog has always been coping with the droughts. People, including peasants and others, have faced many problems and difficult situations. They still struggling with it today. They are more and more obsessed with the rain and «miserable» harvests. Is there anything they can do about it? Something has got to be done. To kill a goat or Abdulla’s donkey which had been thought of eating too much grass and driking too much water in Ilmorog sun-baked earth?
The unfortunate lawyer
Something has to be done to let the authorities know about the village plight. It was Karega’s speech that convinced the gathering of elders and suggested a delegation to meet the MP which implied a journey to the city. The later took place and tournd out to be successful but their MP hasn’t contributed to it. Unfortunately, the lawyer who helped them tremendously has been murdered.
Most of what we learn about characters comes from their painful recollections and Munira’s statement the inspector had made him make.
The novel focuses on the major changes that took place in Ilmorog and on people’s struggle and longing for the old times. Some people were increasingly better off while others got more and more desperate, worse off and bitter. Some, such as Karega, believe in fighting and trade unionism as means of bringing about the necessary changes that will be beneficial to the peasants, traders and workers as well. But, as many know, the wealthy have no feeling of the suffering of Ilmorog people who live in this drought-stricken country.
As in most African countries, people in Ilmorog have lost their faith in politicians for they seldom keep their promises and even accumulate wealth. The later took actions against trad-union activists and always sought to prevent them from struggling for their rights. This is why Karega has been charged with the arson.
The inspector managed to get Munira to tel the truth. It is worthwhile to note that Munira is obsessed with Wanga who let him rather down but she decided to be with Karega because she finds him more appealing.
Munira has put fire to Wanga’s hut to save Karega from Wanga- or so he believed.