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:

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!

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.

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)

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