Ngugi wa Thiong'o is a Kenyan novelist, playwright, and current UC Irvine professor (English and Comp Lit) who, unlike crybaby adult YA fans in the book review blogosphere, has truly suffered for his art. Imprisoned for a year after publishing the politically-charged Petals of Blood, a novel about disillusionment and social upheaval in post-independence Kenya, in 1977 and then the victim of violence on his first return home in 2004, he's been forced to lived much of his adult life in exile for fear of attacks upon his life in his native country. Other key works of his include the novels The River Between (1965), Devil on the Cross (1982), and Wizard of the Crow (2006) and the postcolonial studies primers Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (1986) and Moving the Centre: The Struggle for Cultural Freedom (1993). I mention all this biographical info here at length because, more than with any other novel I've read of late, Petals of Blood seems to have a uniquely intense relationship with its author's homeland. Ostensibly a police procedural having to do with the death of three African directors of a foreign-owned brewery in Ilmorog, a remote backwater far from Nairobi, Thiongo's text takes the stories of the four main suspects and flowers into a thorny, sprawling narrative that's part history, part prison memoir, and part marxist jeremiad in tone. Along the way, the reader is treated to a view of the post-Mau Mau rebellion Kenyan cultural and political landscape that's often angry and almost always confrontational in terms of the relationship of Africa to the West (to be sure, it's also critical of the black power structure in Kenya and in particular of the failures of the post-independence government towards its own people). While I felt that Thiong'o occasionally tried to cover too much ground for his narrative's own good, I never felt that he was preachy and I enjoyed the choral effect brought about by his use of multiple narrators. The novel's examination of feminism within its specific storytelling context was another strong suit--but a depressing one at that ("If you have a cunt--excuse my language, but it seems the curse of Adam's Eve on those who are born with it--if you are born with this hole, instead of it being a source of pride, you are doomed to either marrying someone or else become a whore. You eat or are eaten," complains the main female character at one point [347-348]). A solid and at times bracing story that doubles as an indictment of the legacies of colonialism told from the point of view of the oppressed rather than the oppressors for a change. (http://www.penguinclassics.com/)
Ngugi wa Thiong'o
"Indeed, he thought now, things could never really be the same even in viewing that past of his people, the past he had tried to grapple with in Siriana, and at Ilmorog school. Which past was one talking about? Of Ndemi and the creators from Malindi to Songhai; from the cape of storms, to the Mediterranean Sea? The past of a broken civilization, retarded growth, black people scattered over the globe to feed the ever-demanding god of profit that the lawyer talked about? The past of houses burnt and destroyed and diseases pumped into a continent? Or was it the past of L'Ouverture, Turner, Chaka, Abdulla, Koitalel, Ole Masai, Kimathi, Mathenge and others? Was it of chiefs who sold the others, of the ones who carried Livingstone and Stanley on their backs, deluded into believing that a service to a white man was really a service to God? The past of Kinyanjui, Mumia, Lenana, Chui, Jerrod, Nderi wa Riera? Africa, after all, did not have one but several pasts which were in perpetual struggle. Images pressed on images."