This is the first book I have read by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and I was swept away by it. Written in 1977, Petals of Blood recreates many of the tensions in Kenya at the time. Although the book is anchored by investigation into the murder of three highly placed Kenyan officials, it is at heart a sweeping exploration of the tensions tearing apart Kenyan society: misplaced quest for wealth, modernity, and power; the continued stranglehold of Western imperialism on Kenyan society; the questions of the responsibility of the state for the community and the individual within the community; and the tensions between modern tensions and an aching for traditions, myths, history.
I found Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's central characters to be well-developed, layered, and moving. The novel can be read on many levels: an indictment of Western imperialism, including through Christianity; an anxious statement of concern over the political and economic path taken by Kenya at the time; an exploration of the wide gap between the faux authenticity of Kenya's past as depicted in tourism and the richness of Kenya's true history, as shown in oral history and myth. Throughout, though, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's focus remains on individuals - the decisions they make; their dreams and aspirations set against their realities; the different paths taken by Kenyans as they negotiate the treacherous landscape of modern West Africa. It's a wonderfully written novel, highly recommended.