Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi reminded me of García Marquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude but without the magical realism. Kintu is a multi-generational retelling through fiction of the growth and modernization of the area of Africa which we now call Uganda. Makumbi is an excellent new author and is herself Ugandan.
The story begins far in the past telling of the ancient tribal structures and a magical interpretation of life as you might expect from a primitive people. The myths and curses and magical events are all there, like in the García Marquez novel, but you never get the sense that they are anything but a primitive way of dealing with the events of life.
But are they primitive explanations or literary conceits?
Two important themes that follow through the text are the curse on the blood-line and the prevalence oftwins (by birth (or social creation).
As each generation comes along a different character is the focus of the narrative: sometimes a male ancestor and other times a female. Characters are born and die; move away or return to the ancestral lands; some are good and others are not so good. The novel builds the generations into more modern times with peripheral representation of the reign of Idi Amin and other recognizable political figures. Eventually the extended family of the original Kintu comes together to face the myths and curses their families have lived with for many, many years.
Is Kintu a historical tale or perhaps an imaginative story representing all of life, starting with a creation? Think about One Hundred Years of Solitude.
One small element of Kintu I appreciated very much was that the author almost never paused to explain very African or Ugandan terms, including geography and social structures. I am especially averse to having an author insist that I am too dumb to understand something or to look it up for myself if it is too obscure or too local. When reading on a digital device such as the iPad it takes very little effort to jump from the reader app to the dictionary app to the open internet if necessary.
I expect that there were numerous footnotes or endnotes in the original thesis, The Kintu Saga, and I am thankful that they weren’t carried over to the published novel.
Good job. Excellent novel.