Book Review: Timeless Truths by Dr. Dennis D. Sempebwa

Kampala 2009.
He sits on the balcony. His worn and withered dark skin soaking up what the sun has to offer. He gaze looks beyond the horizon and into the thoughts that are holding his sight captive.

He is in the city now, there is not much for him to do here. The fences here are larger than the land they surround. He has no car nor does he have employment here. He is here to visit with his son and grandchildren he has not seen them in a number of years. However, they are all out. They are always out. There in the city.

So he sits on the balcony, staring at the skyline that is Kampala wondering when he will return to the hills that he calls home.

Kampala 2016.
Wisdom should be passed down through generations. Should be bring the operative phrase. I’ll apologise in advance because this review might be considered highly subjective.

Dr. Sempebwa’s book reminded me so much of my grandfather’s visits to the city. Reading this book created such a yearning in me for the missed opportunities and squandered time with my grandparents.

The book contains 300 proverbs that are split out into categories such as Adversity, Purpose, Change, Diligence, Authenticity, Cheerleaders, Antagonists, Coaches, and Faith. Each chapter opens with an Africa proverb written in a local dialect and translated to English. Yes, some are funny to read…

Lepotla-potla le ja poli, Lesisithelo le ja khomo
~ Lesotho Proverb

Translated: A hurry hurry person eats goat. The one who takes his time eats beef. 

Each category is it’s own chapter, and at the start of each, is a short introduction about the category. There is no clutter or tediously long backstory to each proverb. They, while being simple and straightforward, are also quite powerful.

A good place to look for your destiny is inside your wound

As I read through some of them, I thought about how apt he was in reflecting a lot of the seasons that we go through in life. I have heard that back in the day, fireplaces were a time for gleaning wisdom from elders on how to do life. How not to let life suffocate you or erode those old time fundamental principles on what it means to live and to live well.

In a time where busyness has become the order of the day, and yesterday’s failure quickly overshadowed by today’s sudden fame dubbed trending — perhaps Dr. Sempebwa’s book can prove to be a modern day fireplace.

If you ever find yourself in need of some time tested wisdom, then get yourself a copy of this book. Better yet, if your grandparents are still alive, share some of the proverbs with them and see if they agree.

Book Review: The Ghosts of 1894 by Oduor Jagero

 

I believe it’s tricky when choosing to write about topics that are very sensitive. Whether the content of the book is based on a true story or it’s fiction, you can never really tell where or when to draw the line.

Oduor does an excellent job of gripping our hearts and taking us on a journey into the hearts and minds of his characters. The way he wrote this book… It felt like I was walking through Nyungwe with Akamanzi and Juliet.

The character development was something that my mind kept running back to, after I started reading – Oduor introduces and builds up several characters that are integral to the plot of the story. With a back story on each leading to the point where we meet them. Each story very well thought out, there is a point where even though he is giving you their past, there is a certain mystery that still remains with the character. I felt this way about one of the lead female characters. Actually, throughout the entire book, I kept expecting the ball to drop in some drastic way.

Another interesting thing about this book, is the way it cuts across timelines and countries. Weaving a tale of the unresolved differences of the masters that bled into the hearts of the unsuspecting colonies. This gripping thriller will hook it’s unrelenting claws into you and keep you turning her pages.

There are some tiny details that did often wake me from my reverie, like the notion that Kabale is infinitely more rural than Busia *major side-eye*; or the fact that locals kept referring to Mille Collines in it’s full form (Hôtel des Mille Collines or shortening it as des Mille); or Matoke instead of Matooke; the American recognising ‘groundnuts‘… Again, these are just teensy-wincy details that often pulled me out of the I-can’t-get-enough-of-this-book.

The topic of creative licence came to mind as I noted above. In all circumstances, an author who is writing fiction should be able to create and redefine places as they see fit. But what happens when you are writing fiction surrounding events that have happened or even writing about places that currently exist.

Must we stay in line with the nuances of the locals or do we have the licence to integrate the physical reality with a hint of fiction.

Side Note: This is the sixth book I am completing off the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. My reading list is here in case you are looking for books to add to yours OR if you have book I simply must read feel free to share.

My next book is Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go


**The Ghosts of 1894 photo source: AfricaReview.com

Short Story Review: SunDown by Acan Innocent Immaculate

Hmmm… I was left a little bit uncertain after reading this story. I almost want to persuade Acan to write an encore just to appease my uncertainty…**proceeds to cross fingers**

The setting is in apocalyptic earth, but Acan has a managed to spin the story way from the norm that is characterised by doom, gloom and we are all headed to hell… She takes on a certain wonder and almost playful voice that keeps your attention rapt and leaning in.

He must be the only human alive who’s happy to see the sun on her glorious deathbed

In the 3,460 worded story, we are introduced to Red – a little wonderer whose inquisitive nature draws you into the story of SunDown. His take and view of the world given his current state make you start to draw conclusions about what the ending will be like.

I credit Acan’s choice to include winter in this story. As bitter and bleak as winter can be, it also has the element of crisp & cleanness that it brings with it. The sense of starting a fresh or starting over, if you will. The white that washes over everything making it distinct and pristine…

Now the wind, he has always hated and will continue to do so. It is the snow’s bad tempered older cousin

Although, I was slightly amused by Red’s depiction of God, he reminded me so much of Gandalf. This leads me to mention the clever way in which Acan brought in the aspect of the ancient scriptures in moments that called for them. Now that, was brilliant!

In conclusion, this is not your usual apocalyptic themed story, this is one last-days story that you wouldn’t have too much of a hard time believing would happen.

SunDown by Acan Innocent Immaculate was announced as having been shortlisted for the Writivism 4th Annual Short Story Prize. It has now been published at Munyori Literary Journal head on over there to read it yourself

Book Review: Nairobi Echoes #Writivism2016

This review contains a couple of spoilers 

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This book is split up into 5 curious stories; at the start, I thought that these stories were interrelated but to my surprise, they were not. Actually, when I look at the book’s synopsis, there is nothing about the stories being connected… However, I digress!

It’s collection of stories about the lives of different characters living in the city of Nairobi. I have always thought of Nairobi to be the concrete jungle of East Africa. Busy people with busy lives, moving around in a busy nature, speaking in a busy manner.
In each of the stories, Gazemba goes into detail building up each of the characters, hooking us in through their back stories. Some of them, in particular, Tommy Hilfiger are quite relatable. I could totally see that going down in Kampala.
“I…I…I’ve never seen them, sir,” Jamin replied, his lips quivering and his head shaking vehemently. “Oh, so you mean a ghost came out of nowhere and disappeared with them…
Tehehe… Is it only Africa where such random statements are made?
Some of the stories have a slow build up (Chinese Cuisine, I am talking about you), but on the whole, Gazemba takes us on an interesting journey into the lives of Nairobi’s people. Each story has a different theme that it revolves around, from semi-thriller to love-wins-it-all, and a couple of stops in-between.
Thereafter he would remove his hacksaw and the rest would be easy – just like sawing through a dog’s carcass.
Whilst reading The Stronger Hand, I became slightly confused and opinionated because some part of the story happened in Uganda and in my head, it wasn’t adding up. I think Gazemba predicted this reaction because he pulled out an interesting twist as story unfolded.
The last confusing teeny-tiny thing that got to me, again this was whilst reading the stronger hand was geography. At one point, Gazemba starts the story in Arua, saying: I was smart enough to realize that our Apac home was getting crowded… Before we came to the south we had lived in Gulu in the north.
I could be wrong, but Arua isn’t to the south of Gulu or maybe he was not referring to Arua and Gulu at that point…
Overall, this book was an interesting journey…
I vote Mercedes, my favourite story out of the five. Yesss, I am trying to bias you into diving into it first.

Book Review: Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986 | How I saw it – Pecos Kutesa 

Yes, I know – In my last review, I had claimed that I was taking a short break and diving into Africa39. However, a book exchange went down and I ended up with this book. 

I won’t lie, I saw the cover and judged the book in an instant – I was skeptical about it’s content however, the lender recommended it and I trusted them. 

This review contains a couple of spoilers 

The book is a personal account of a fight against an oppressive government. Young men with ideas about standing against injustice and the guts to get up and do something about it. Sounds similar to the review I made about Daniel Kalinaki’s Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s unfinished revolution, doesn’t it?

The difference is that in this book, Gen. Kutesa takes us on a journey that contains the grim details of the brutality behind a ‘revolution’. 

At one point the he talks about going to get more ammunition and encountering his two friends helping their wounded comrade to the rear. 

The wounded comrade was headless. 

He wrote about the effect it had on him, on his fellow fighters. The hope that was brought in successes and in the birth of children in the bush. Friends lost in ambushes, coats shredded because of gunfire but the owners miraculously surviving. 

The tribal divide that existed before the struggle and the task it took to change the mindsets of guerilla fighters from different regions but fighting for the freedom of one country. 

This was Kampala, a city of bullets, bombs and drunken and drugged soldiers who were heavily armed…

To me, he made clear the situation of the country between 1979 to 1986. For some reason, the different regime changes during that period never really sank in until now. 

I gotta say – if my dad was alive, he would be answering some pretty tough questions. Like for instance, I know that he and one of my uncles planned a road trip to Kigali in this period also. A period where road blocks were like the Tarmac on roads. 

I mean, really – I used to get a tongue lashing for even thinking about a sleepover, however, these brothers had the audacity to plan to travel for fun on a road notorious for trouble!! Mehhhh! 

Anyway, I digress… 

It’s a good insightful read.

One thing the OCD character in me would have loved, is a little more chronological order. The book is currently arranged in order of events and sometimes these overlapped each other. 

On an unrelated note, the day I got this book, it was announced that Gen. Pecos Kutesa had been elected among those who would represent the army in parliament. I smiled when I got to the end of the book and read his remarks about leaving the Constitutional Assembly, I wonder what his thoughts are as he takes on this new position. (This book was published in 2006).

***

Side Note: This is the fourth book I am completing off the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. My reading list is here in case you are looking for books to add to yours OR if you have book I simply must read feel free to share.

And now, after this fabulous interruption, back to Africa39

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The book Africa39 – is a compilation of 39 short stories authored by some of the most gifted/talented African writers (south of the Sahara / diaspora).

Book Review: Kizza Besigye & Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution

When I picked this book up, I was curious about the man the book was about. He is portrayed a certain way in Ugandan media and I wondered if that was all to him.
The brutha with the hoarse voice, always partly frowning, partly grimacing into the camera. Very confrontational – forever attached a UP pick-up.

If you have no clue who ‘he’ is – his name is Kizza Besigye, or KB – he belongs to and is one of the founding members of the FDC. FDC is one of the political parties in Uganda.

In all honesty, now that I have finished this book, I feel I got more than I bargained for. All I wanted to know was who is this KB and what his story was?!

Instead, I was quickly immersed into a intriguing story filled with so much history yet perfectly interwoven with KB’s life. A history of our country’s politics, the build up to the beginning of a regime – what was seen as a new dawn for our country.

Of friendships borne out of similar ideologies and patriotism. The endless switching of sides, the shifting of allegiances. An eerie sense settled as some scenes that bore a stark resemblance to present day events.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Context was finally provided to those headlines that screamed at us in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Those names from news broadcasts when we were too young to be bothered by current affairs.

In the book, KB relays the reason why he is doing it all. The reason behind the arrests, the protests, the low growls. It took me by surprise though, guess the entire book took me by surprise.

Ah, this book!

Anyway, the story aside, I found that Daniel’s writing is quite interesting – at some points, it felt like I was watching a documentary.

He cleverly tells the story from various points of views, switches between different periods to allow for context.

It was a very easy read; captivating and engaging.

****

Ps: I had NO idea that Winnie, his wife, was the first female aeronautical engineer! Geeking out!!!

Side Note: This is the third book I am completing off the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. My reading list is here in case you are looking for books to add to yours OR if you have book I simply must read feel free to share.

Africa39 – with a preface by Wole Soyinka

Next book is the Africa39 – it’s a compilation of 39 short stories authored by some of the most gifted/talented African writers (south of the Sahara / diaspora).

I wonder if this counts as cheating, since this will kindda be like reading 39 books at once. Tehehehe, I will probably write separate reviews about each.

**hides face** I think I am having way too much fun with this challenge

Book Review: We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo

Coming off the ecstatic high that was Kintu, it is safe to assume that I was given a rude awakening concerning the differences of writing styles portrayed by Jennifer & NoViolet.

Why on earth, did I expect them to have similar writing styles, I hear you ask. Well your guess is as good as mine!

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Dear God!! Am I one of those people that subconsciously believes that Africa is one country?!

I often hear individuals refer to themselves as “I am a people person”, while, I personally claim no such thing – I do believe that I am a child person. I like kids and will take to them with out much thought.

This was all until I read this book.

You see, for about 50% of the book, NoViolet has the uncanny ability to take you on the trails and adventures of a 10 year old child. No. You don’t get it. Into their head. Their thoughts. Their reactions. Page turn by page turn, another day into the life of this child and their crew.

The language, the mannerisms – everything!

I was listening to this 10 year old speak all the time and I was getting slightly irritated. Okay. Maybe, it wasn’t just slightly. There was a point in this book where I shouted, WHERE ON EARTH ARE THE ADULTS? IS THIS REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN??

Hmm… Mayhaps, this is a credit to her! How on earth did she do this? Like morph into the mind of a child for purposes of writing a book?

But then all of a sudden, it all stopped. Poof! Now we were fast tracked into this teenagers life. New experiences, New sights, New sounds, New mannerisms. And then just like that – The End!

No. This book left me feeling rather short-changed. I have so many questions that are unanswered!

Maybe the whole point of the book was lost on me!

One thing that did sneak out towards the end, was the plight & somewhat bleakishly sad existence of the nkuba-kyeyos (the ones who go to the ever plush greenfield of opportunity that is the west).

(Update) One other thing: I have always been a fan of languages that integrate with English and give it that sheng umph! You know, like how some East Africans can use Swahili in an English sentence and you still get the point… NoViolet does that.

My take away, if you hear me using the work kaka, it’s not what you think.

In south western Uganda, Kaka refers to a grandparent or a great-grand parent depending on the traditions/customs of your family.

_cheeky
In this book, it totally means something else!

(Update) Also, look out for the moment at the wedding – you will be filled with sudden satisfaction.

Ookay, that is was the last update!

***

Side Note: This is the second book  I am completing off the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. My reading list is here in case you are looking for books to add to yours OR if you have book I simply must read feel free to share.

Next book is Kizza Besigye & Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution by Daniel Kalinaki.

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Kintu: The book I didn’t want to finish (Book Review)

I had no idea who Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi was before opening this book. Save for the few tweets I saw on my timeline, I was completely uninterested. In fact, I didn’t not even buy the copy of Kintu that I own (autographed copy, **insert smirk**). Rather, it was a gift given to me at Jackee Batanda’s One Day Novel Writing class. (Plug: She has a professional writing workshop coming up in 3 days. Sign up if you are serious about writing – More info here (PDF). Plus in July she hosts a Writer’s retreat – I do not plan to miss this one, this time around) .

From the moment I opened up this book, I have been raving about it to who ever would care to give me their ear (my poor friends are probably nodding as they read this). I grew up reading a lot of western influence type books – you know the lot: Sheldon, Archer, Bradford, Gardner, Collins, Steel, Grisham, Gould, Clancy.

Makumbi’s Kintu was not something I was expecting.

Riveting is a word we used to discribe it in a Twitter conversation. From the beginning of the book to the last full stop on the story, your mind is on edge wondering, what is this woman trying to do to my imagination.

For someone who grew up in Kampala, Uganda – this book will be an extra treat for you. Your mind is immediately drawn to the different places she mentions, the mannerisms and sounds that we are often fond of doing andsaying… Don’t roll your eyes, where else in the world can you say, “extend” and they will immediately understand your out of context use of the word.

I am not sure whether this the actual story behind the legend of Kintu, but in away, I don’t want to know. She found a way of telling the story of different cultures and the different tuntu that are there, that nobody talks about but everybody knows.

Her writing style is clear, distinct and  descriptive. She immediately captures your imagination and then grips it firmly in her fist, everytime you cry foul – the grip tightens just a little more.

Detailed. I am not sure how long it took her to write this book, because the level of detail that she inserts into the story is amazing. Different lives over different generations without loosing the scarlet thread that binds them.

Ah! This was such a good book.

You should read it!

****

Side Note: This is the first book review, so excuse the exaggeration but incase you couldn’t tell, I really liked this book. This is the first one I am completing off the 2016 Africa Reading Challenge. My reading list is here in case you are looking for books to add to yours OR if you have book I simply must read feel free to share.

Next book is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.

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My 2016 Reading List

I know what brown smells like.

Every single time I open up a book with brown pages, it has the same distinct smell. I know what digital feels like, that ache in my eyes and that cramp in my finger. Actually, now that I think of it, I also know what white smells like.

No, my dearest up-in-arms advocate – this is in no way linked to racism.

We often make resolutions without a plan – well, this is my attempt at a plan. I want to read – I want to read so much more than I have read these past 5 years. Well, these past 15 years, really!

I want to read Africa.

Apana ndugu, hii si attempt mbili ku racism.
(Ha! See what I did there…)

We, all 7 billion of us, view the world in our own shades of purple and grey. I want to read her. I want to read stories from ‘the’ Congo; I want to learn of myths of Mali; I want to hear the song of Libya; I flex with the might of the South Africans; I want to get mystified by the stories from Uganda. I want to soak her in. I want to be a part of her…

Okay, maybe I exaggerate – but you get the gist of it. The titles in list below were compiled from Nevender‘s & NaiveUgandan‘s blogs as well as the trusty old Google Search.

30 books for 2016.

  1. We Need New Names – NoViolet Bulawayo (Book 2 – Review here)
  2. I write What I like : Selected Writings – Steve Biko
  3. Kizza Besigye and Uganda’s Unfinished Revolution – Daniel Kalinaki (Book 3 – Review here)
  4. The River Between – Ngugi wa Thiongo
  5. Blossoms of the Savannah – Olet Kulet
  6. The Warring Princess: Portrait of a Triumphant Woman – Josephine Namukisa
  7. A Long Way Gone : Memoirs of a Boy Solider – Ishmael  Beah
  8. Through My African Eyes – Jeff Koinange
  9. Arrow of God – Chinua Achebe
  10. The Shadow of Imana by Veronique Tadjo
  11. Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngonzi
  12. Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi ** Currently Reading**
  13. God’s Bits of Wood – Ousmane Sembene
  14. The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  15. Half of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngonzi
  16. Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe
  17. Tropical Fish – Doreen Baingana
  18. In The Country of Men – Hisham Matar
  19. A Calabash of Life – Asalache K.
  20. Petals of Blood – Ngugi wa Thiongo
  21. In the Footsteps of Mr.Kurtz : Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu’s Congo – Michela Wrong
  22. Nothing Left to Steal – Mzilikazi Wa Afrika
  23. The Rebel’s Hour – Lieve Joris
  24. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngonzi
  25. The Memory of Love – Aminatta Forna
  26. Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta
  27. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born – Ayi Kwei Armah
  28. Men of the South – Zukiswa Warner
  29. Recipe for Disaster – Lilian Tindyebwa
  30. Kintu – Jennifer Makumbi (Book 1 – Review here)
  31. Uganda’s Revolution 1979-1986 | How I saw it – Pecos Kutesa (Book 4 – Review here)
  32. Nairobi Echoes – Stanley Gazemba (Book 5 – Review here)

**Updates**
Bonus books curated from This is Africa – Considered the best books of 2015
Chigozie Obioma, “The Fishermen”
Petina Gappah, “The Book of Memory”
EC Osondu, “This House Is Not For Sale”
Chinelo Okparanta, “Under the Udala Trees”
Igoni Barret, “Blackass”
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, “Season of Crimson Blossoms”;
Elnathan John, “Born on a Tuesday”
Masande Ntshanga, “The Reactive”

**Update from Africa39’s interview with Arac de Nyeko
The God Of Small Things by Arundati Roy,
Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels,
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga,
Song of Lawino, the long poem by Okot p’Bitek,
The Concubine by Elechi Amadi.
So Long A Letter too by Mariama Bâ

**Update from #MeetLounge #ReadABook Session
The Official Wife by Mary Karooro Okurut

**Update – these titles were bought at Writivism2016, a literary festival that happens in Kampala, Uganda.
The Ghosts of 1894 – Oduor Jagero (Book 6 – Review here)
The Triangle – Nakisanze Segawa
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumor – Grace A Musila
How to spell Naija 2 – Chuma Nwokolo
Borderline – Michela Wrong
It’s Our Turn To Eat – Michela Wrong
100 Days – Juliane Okot Bitek
We are all Blue – Donald Molosi

I am currently reading Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi & The Best is Yet to Come – Brian Houston. Hope to be done with the latter soon – so that I can hop onto the next. Kintu, is a different story, you need to ‘experience’ it to learn that you cannot rush Jennifer – your heart will shatter into tiny pieces. Better to take it all in small doses.

Yeap! This is the beginning of my 2016 Africa Reading Challenge!

So tell me, who are you going to read this year?
Do you have your own list – Share?
Is there a title I simply MUST read :)?

*Images courtesy of Google