Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sean Barrs
Reviewed by Sean Barrs
Summary: History in the form of an unrelenting curse pervades the present in this epic novel that questions if we can ever fully recover from the wounds of the past.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: January 2018
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
ISBN: 978-1786073778

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Kintu opens with unbridled authority and mercilessness. In just a few pages a man has been hunted down by an angry mob in Uganda. He is then brained with a concrete slab; his woman is left in widowhood and has the hard task of dealing with her man's debt. Blood flows easily, and quickly, when your family's steps are haunted by a curse that spans generations.

I found this such an effective piece of storytelling, the idea that the history of our ancestors never full leaves us and has the potential to one day assert itself in our present age. Two hundred and fifty years prior to the incident with the concrete slab, a freak accident lead to a fa`ther murdering his own son; it was an accident he never forgave himself for. It set off a chain of events that would shape his life thereafter and ultimately see him torn from the remainder of his family. He is cursed and leaves his village in solitude. Once a respectable man, Kintu Kidda is ruined. His actions have ramifications for all his descendants, for those that been scattered across the globe over the years. Breaking Kintu's curse will finally bring them all together in the conclusion of this hugely dramatic story.

In his novel Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe demonstrated that Africa does not possess a silent culture. African language is formal, developed and intelligent. Here Makumbi plays around with language and storytelling; she writes in English, as Achebe once did, but she also inserts Ugandan words into her prose. Such a narrative technique makes the story distinctively her own, and it's completely unafraid to shout out its voice to the rest of the world like Achebe's writing. Words are, indeed, powerful tools and they have been used here to full effect.

The novel is divided into six separate (yet intricately interconnected) books. I found this very intriguing, hearing about the curse from different perspectives and seeing how it affected people differently across history. Traditional African culture relied on an oral accounting of history, and as such truth can often become distorted and easily turned into myth. Each generation adds a little bit more or takes a little bit away from the original facts. By the end it has become something else, though it is still pervaded by the original ideas as shown here with the original saga of Kintu Kidda.

Despite the time that has elapsed, the original truth of the events in the story can never be changed: they did happen once and they will always exist in the shadows of life. In doing so Makumbi demonstrates how the colonial history of Africa will never fully stop asserting itself in the present. It will never go away, and it's important that it doesn't so humanity can learn from its mistakes and understand exactly what it once did to a people that were essentially their neighbours from across the sea. This novel is, certainly, a worthy study for those interested in postcolonial theory and global literature.

Kintu is a difficult novel to read, and as such it requires a reader who is willing to be patient and put time into appreciating it. Keeping track of all the characters is also difficult, I recommend taking brief notes whist reading and perhaps even researching some of the terminology. As such I would only recommend this to readers who enjoy complex modern novels such as NW by Zadie Smith and Brick Lane by Monica Ali.

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