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

#Writivism2016 Day 4: Tell Me A Story In A Language That Moves You…

A Triple book launch AND a Long Story Short Staged Readings is what was planned for tonight. Unfortunately, I could not attend all the events, however, I did manage to get the first half hour of the triple book launch.

The books on the line up were: The Triangle by Nakisanze Segawa, How to Spell Naija II by Chuma Nwokolo and We are All Blue by Donald Molosi. This session was moderated by Nwokolo, who I think was a fun and engaging host.

We started off a bit late with people trickling in at their own pace, so Nwokolo got a brilliant idea on how to lure them in. He gave those of us who were in the room the plan and we were all in agreement.

Up he stood, book in hand, in a bold loud voice – he started to read. Was the story already written on the pages of the book, I have no idea. As he read aloud, people started coming in and with everyone who entered, we clapped as loudly as we could – as if we wholehearted agreed with what he had just said.

It was probably the clapping that caused the tarrying feet to pick up their pace – Ingenious idea Nwokolo, ingenious! Standing ovation from the timekeepers in the room!

After he made the introductions, we dived head first into Molosi’s We are All Blue. Sadly, Molosi was unable to come however, he was well represented by his publisher – Shaun Randol. Randol talked about the significance of the book not only in Botswana but also in the US, where the book speaks to racial tension. What had me amused was that this is not a novel but a play packaged in a book. Who does that? Packages a play into a book?

One of the organizers of a local arts festival raised a question about how she found it difficult to convince publishers to take on similar publishing projects because they were more interested in work that had the potential to make it onto a school curriculum. She then proposed that Randol take a look at the different works coming out of East Africa. To which he responded in the affirmative. He did note that he was not initially looking to publish drama, but that Molosi’s manuscript was powerful enough to change his mind.

Next up was Nakisanze who took us into a little background about her book, The Triangle, and some of her reasons for the angles she took while writing it. She took a reading in English and then also gave an electrifying brief performance in Luganda. In her words, the book takes on the life of Kabaka Mwanga and especially the periods of his life that are not popular in history text books.

One particular question that she got asked that had me bobbing my head was, how did she make the choice on what to include in her book and what to leave out of her book. To which she responded, that her research did lead her to a staggering wealth of information, but she was urged by fellow writer, Jennifer Makumbi (of the Kintu fame – book review here) not to include every single thing into her book. After all she was not writing a historical piece but a book in which she was going to weave truth and fiction.

Which makes me wonder about where one is supposed to draw the line between fiction and fact? Who has the authority to do that especially when the protagonist in the story is a well known figure in the hallways of Ugandan history?

Then the intriguing question of language reared it’s head once again. For those of us whose first language is not English, there is the laborious task that involves thinking in your mother tongue first, then attempting to switch back to English. Most times, English does not truly portray the emotion that is bellied deep within the intonations and gestures that come along with speaking in a native tongue.

Unfortunately, that was all I had time for last evening as I had to rush off to another meeting. However, I did manage to get a recording of Nakisanze giving a short captivating performance of a scene from the book (The Triangle) in Luganda.

Enjoy!

The Writivism Festival is an initiative that brings together established writers from the African Continent and beyond.

It will be happening this week (22nd to 28th of August) at the Uganda Museum.
Monday – Thursday: 6pm – 8pm;
Friday: 12pm – 8pm;
Saturday: 10am – 8pm;
Sunday: 12pm – 8pm.

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: 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.

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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!

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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!

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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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