door Uschi Cop
✨KINTU by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is our first book of the month.✨
This book follows the offspring of Kintu through the ages of Uganda.
Kintu is an epic novel, told with an emotional distance and objective eye that leaves the reader uneasy at times.
The book opens with a gruesome lynching of one of the great-great-great grandsons of Kintu in the Uganda of the 21st century, after he is dragged out of his home by police. Makumbi turns this bloody murder of a male into a criticism of the inferior position of the women in African society, by focusing on the mistress left to deal with her man's dead.
When Makumbi turns to 1750, the days of Kintu Kidda, again a male main character is shoved onto the stage. Kintu is leaving home to attend the crowning of a new king, a perilous journey, which will cost the life of one of his sons.
Quickly, on the beginning of the journey, Kintu's thoughts turn to his many wives at home. As the quote below illustrates:
"He thought of the fabled men who unwittingly married spirits, but then dismissed the thought. Babiry was not a demon, just a dreadful woman."
It goes on:
"At the thought of his wives Kintu gnashed his teeth. He felt bound. He was a prize bull thrown into a herd of heifers. He was Ppookino: why did he have to mount every woman thrown at him? On the other hand, how could he not? He was a man, a seed dispenser. ... He was a slave to procreation and to the kingdom."
In both chapters, it is the men who go out, take the risks. The women stay at home and are the object of worries and resentment. They end up having to passively undergo the consequences of the male's endeavors. They are the victims. But Makumbi also shows how this patriarchal society is detrimental to the males in power: they get killed, kill their own offspring, or are pushed into lives they do not want. Throughout the novel, events through the ages get tied together by nuanced and subtle analogies . It seems Makumbi is trying to show how little has changed over hundreds of years.
Another exciting aspect of the book is how the magical thinking of the Ganda culture and the Lugandan language emerges throughout the story lines. The soul-sharing of twins, the apparitions of ghosts and the weird physical ailments of the characters give a certain tension to the book.
In the following fragment Suubi has just seen her dead twin, threatening her to tell her boyfriend 'the truth' about being a part of a twin.
"Suubi tried to shake her head to say that she was not a twin but could not. And how could Ssanyu hear her thoughts? For a while she struggled to break free but not a muscle twitched, her eyes would not open but her heart pumped in her ears. It felt as if she had been buried alive. Ssanyu Babirye stood over her like a snarling guard dog."
Kintu has been called 'the great Ugandan novel'. Makumbi wrote this manuscript as her dissertation and she took ten years to complete it. It shows. This novel poses questions about gender, culture and mental illness. It tells the story of a family, a country, and it's people, and gives the reader the beautiful experience of reading really good literature.
An important book and a must read.
Jennifer N. Makumbi is an Ugandan novelist and short story writer. She lives in Manchester, where she runs the African reading group A.R.G., which focuses on obscure African writers and teaches creative writing. https://jennifermakumbi.net/
Jennifer will talk at the Passa Porta festival on the 27th of March in the 'Women and Power' series. MUST SEE!
Kintu was published in Dutch by Uitgeverij Cossee