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A Girl is A Body of Water Summary and Reviews

A Girl is A Body of Water

by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi X
A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
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  • Publishes in USA 
    Sep 1, 2020
    560 pages
    Genre: Novels

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About this book

Book Summary

International-award-winning author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's novel is a sweeping and powerful portrait of a young girl and her family: who they are, what history has taken from them, and--most importantly--how they find their way back to each other.

In her twelfth year, Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small village of Nattetta―her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts, but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature.

Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, a local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the "first woman"―an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.

Kirabo's journey to reconcile her rebellious origins, alongside her desire to reconnect with her mother and to honor her family's expectations, is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an arresting exploration of what it means to be a modern girl in a world that seems determined to silence women. Makumbi's unforgettable novel is a sweeping testament to the true and lasting connections between history, tradition, family, friends, and the promise of a different future.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"A Girl is a Body of Water is a wonder, as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself–from the 'irate noises' of Nnankya's stream to the 'theatrical' rains of Nattetta with which Makumbi's women wash, delight, and sate themselves. With wry wisdom, great humor, and deep complexity, Makumbi has created a feminist coming-of-age classic for the ages, sure to join the company of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet. Being surrounded by Makumbi's women—young and old—as they each struggle in different ways to clarify and achieve mwenkanonkano, feels like love, feels like learning–and best of all it often feels, as she puts it, 'like mischief'!" - Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift

"A Girl is a Body of Water is captivating, wise, humorous and tender: Makumbi has come back stronger than ever. This is a tale about Kirabo and her family, and her place in the world as she searches for her mother and a true sense of belonging. But most of all, this is a book about the stories that define us, and those we tell to redefine ourselves. A riveting read." - Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King

"In her characteristically page-turning and engaging style, Makumbi lays bare the complex power dynamics of patriarchy, capitalism and neocolonialism, not through academic jargon but via that most effective tool of education--storytelling. An achingly beautiful tale." - Sylvia Tamale

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Reader Reviews

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Liz D. (East Falmouth, MA)

A Girl is a Body of Water
It takes a family to raise a strong woman. In the book A Girl is a Body of Water the women in Kirabo's teach and guide her to be a woman of the 21st century. She learns from her grandmother and aunts about the life of an African living in the small village of Nattetta, Uganda. Kirabo learns the tribal and customs,the stories and ledgends, the hard work of farming and making a successful life on the land. But Kirabo's dreams go beyond the village she desires European education.

In the boarding school Kirabo meets girls who have grown up in the city. She begins to expand her worldy knowledge. Going between school and Nattetta Kirabo feels she is between worlds. Her father Tom comes home to Nattetta and takes Kirabo to the city to attend University. In Kampala Kirabo is left under the wing of her Aunt Abi, who teaches her the ways of the modern world while instilling in Kirabo the importance of her heritage.

One of the threads of Kirabo's rich story is her search for her mother, she wants to find her place in the world and family.

After university Kirabo's journey takes her back to Nattetta where she is able to reconcile her education with her families customs and ways finding a unique place for herself in modern Africa.

Ms. Makumbi has give a beautiful insight into African culture filling the book with memorable characters and stories. i would recommend this book to many friends because like any great book it can be read and experienced on many levels.

Marianne L. (Syosset, NY)

A Gem
A Girl Is a Body of Water is a beautifully written book that sketches the story of a girl in 1970's Uganda struggling to discover who she is amid the overbearing clutches of a patriarchal society. Early in the book you come to care for Kirabo, our main character, rooting for her as she navigates the myriad influences of time and place. Storytelling exerts a powerful influence upon the characters in this book, whether that be for better or for worse. Rich in its depiction of Ugandan culture in the 70's, you become immersed in its wisdom and deceit. If the intricacies of cultures beyond the western world interest you, you may enjoy this book. Given the vast differences between western and Ugandan culture, this story convincingly shows how much our human needs and desires transcend time and culture.

Sonia F. (Freehold, NJ)

A Girl Is A Body Of Water
Jennifer Mansubuga Makumbi is a born storyteller. Every word resonates with such imagery of this Uganda village and its denizens. Told in alternate chapters from a third person point of view,this novel has a " folklorish" aura about it: tradition, superstitions, tribalism is all served up in this captivating page turner.

Kirabo search for her mother haunts her throughout this novel and while seeking who and where her mother is learns about the rest of the family. The secrets, the silence is all complicit. The vernacular is at times funny, but yet brilliantly served up with personification and profound metaphors: " his stare made her feel as if the world was scorched but she was the only plant sprouting ".

The characters are rich and round... they all have a story to tell and tell it they do . At this juncture, I will say that it was helpful that there was a character list at the end of the book It was very hard keeping the numerous names in place.
Even though it took many pages later to find out who Kirabo's mother was, it was quite an experience traveling to Uganda learning about this rich culture: family, village life, beliefs, and much told about the Uganda unrest and civil war in the 1980's.

I love the storytelling within the storytelling. It was like sitting around a fire and listen to your grandmother tell stories of long ago and why life is the way it is now.
A very captivating story of a young girl coming of age: falling in love , attending school, painful experiences, but through it all she endured .

Nicole S. (St. Paul, MN)

Great storytelling
We learn early in the book that a great storyteller deserves a level of respect from her listeners. This is a great story. The descriptions of Uganda are evocative and lush. Kirabo is the type of girl heroine that you cheer for and at times grimace at. But her search for her mother, her self and her history are all heart and fascinating. Enjoy this book, it's a treat.

Susan B. (Fort Myers, FL)

Endearing portrait of growing up in Uganda
A Girl is a Body of Water, you drop her in and she finds her depth. I enjoyed this book and recommend it to all my bookclub friends.

Kirabo, a twelve year old Ugandan girl, grows into a young adult. She has to struggle with traditional roles and modern roles, between history and a modern future. The importance of family and culture are always pulling her in different directions.

She is forced by circumstances to deal with family expectations, a missing mother, the dealth of loved ones, war, and friendships; those lost and those found. The entire cast of family and friends are delightful, a wonderful testament to folklore and a way of living that has much common sense in it.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi works a spell that puts you in the story. The depth of the characters is woven in the narrative. Her writing is excellent, I look forward to her next book.

Naomi B. (Tucson, AZ)

A Girl Is a Body of Water: A stunning coming of age story
With A Girl is a Body of Water, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi gives us an epic coming of age tale not only of Kirabo, a young girl growing up in the rural village of Nattette, but of the nation of Uganda. The story begins in 1975, when Kirabo is twelve. She lives with her grandparents and a house full of teenagers of unspecified relation to Kirabo. Kirabo has a gift for storytelling, and the book begins with her story of a woman who buries her newborn daughter in an anthill because her husband wants only sons. This sets the stage for a novel steeped in mwenkanonkano, the Ugandan feminist movement.

Kirabo is a "special child." She is born with "the original state" inside her, a consciousness going back to Ugandan origin myths. It allows her to leave her body and fly, swinging from the church steeple until, "like a canon, she launched into the sky." Kirabo is conflicted because her Christian upbringing tells her these powers are evil. In secret, she consults Nsuuta, the village witch. She has two requests: to lose her original state and to find her birth mother, who deserted her when she was a newborn. These conflicts propel Kirabo forward as she leaves the village for boarding school in Kampala, falls in love, and survives Idi Amin's reign of terror.

"Stories are critical," Nsuuta tells Kirabo. "The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us." Makumbi has told a critical story. With beautifully wrought prose, characters you cannot help but fall in love with, and the bravery to confront the complex issues of society, she gives us a vision of a brighter stronger, and more equal world.

...7 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi Author Biography

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a Ugandan novelist and short story writer, has a PhD from Lancaster University, where she now teaches. Her first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani Manuscript Project in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. Her story "Let's Tell This Story Properly" won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Her second novel is A Girl is A Body of Water (Sept 2020). Jennifer lives in Manchester, UK with her husband, Damian, and her son, Jordan.

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