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Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

February 28, 2017

Kintu, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.  Transit Books (2017), 446 pages.

5 stars

A compelling family saga by a Ugandan woman about a curse inherited by later generations of Ugandans.

Jennifer Makumbi was born and raised in Uganda where her father was a victim of Idi Amin.  She grew up and taught in the country before earning her Ph.D. and teaching in England.  Her writing is deeply embedded in the lives and legends of the people of her country.

Her book begins in the 1700s when Kintu was a local leader of his tribe.  In the course of his life, he and his descendants are cursed.  Then the narrative shifts to the experiences of several branches of his family in the near past. Names of the original family are handed down, sometimes in variations, twins persist in each generation and the curse plays out in their lives.  Each family story is told in detail with a few minor connections between them.  As the book ends, individuals from each part of the family come together to try to remove the curse.  As always with good literature, the results are full of ambiguity and surprises.

Makumbi is a talented writer able to engage readers in the stories of her characters, even when those stories are foreign to them.  The book abounds in Ugandan names and places. Characters often go by several names. Myths and traditions unfamiliar to non-Ugandan readers appear. This is a book centered on Ugandans, with minor references to colonization.  And yet the characters are strongly depicted, allowing all readers access to their lives.

I cannot claim to have fully understood everything in this book, but I enjoyed it and gladly recommend it to others.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 28, 2017 2:27 pm

    Hi Marilyn, how is the curse aspect presented? Is Makumbi a modern writer reflecting on superstitions or does she present it as valid?

    • March 1, 2017 4:33 pm

      The characters disagree on this point. But how does anyone explain the patterns they see without myths and spiritual forces? Makumbi handles the ambiguity well, I think.

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