Excerpt from Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi X
Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
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    May 2017, 446 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Buddu Province, Buganda
The Moon of Gatonya, 1750

The party formed a snaking retinue. They walked downhill from Kintu's courtyard, through cultivated plots on his land, past silent shadowy houses until they came to the bottom near the well where village residents collected water. The moon, as if shy, still hid behind a cloud. But midnight darkness was beginning to loosen. Kintu looked in the distance but the night yielded no horizon. Yet to him, the landscape was clear. He knew every rise and fall in the earth, every bush and thicket and every old tree intimately.

By the time the party came to Nswera, a large stream that cut Kiyirika Village off from the rest of Buddu Province, the fireflies had gone to sleep. The moon now tailed them at a distance like a nosy little brother. It was good timing, the walkers needed light to cross the swamp. Nswera was in a huge basin: its edges were steep while the bottom was flat.

Ten men descended into the swamp before Kintu allowed his sons to follow. Inside the swamp, the snores of nature filled the air. Leaves rustled and insects whistled. Closer to the stream, frogs croaked as if hired to perform. The party crossed the stream without a problem and took on the incline to climb out. By the time everyone got out, the moon had drawn closer. Suddenly, Babirye, like an owl, swooped and perched into Kintu's mind. She loomed large and dark. Kintu contemplated her for a moment then dismissed her.

Four hours later, they were inside Nabweteme, a dense rain forest. The moon, now huge and low, sailed close to the canopy. Its light streaked through the trees. The forest was silent. When Kintu looked up again, the moon was racing ahead as if it had lingered too long in their company. He saw it sink behind the trees and thought, this is how we grow old: by letting the moon and the sun overtake us.

The first part of the forest came to an abrupt end and they broke out into a clearing. Daybreak lay in the distance. Kintu was peering at it when he felt cold air on his head, as if his hair had been swept off. He held his breath—there was no tension among his men. Were they being stalked? But the party was too large to be attacked by wild animals. His mind raced back home to his family but he felt no danger there either. Yet he was certain that something was wrong. He asked his sons, Kalema and Baale, who now trailed somewhere in the party behind him to walk close to him.

The horizon cracked into scarlet rays. The party had a few precious minutes to enjoy sunrise before entering the second phase of the forest.

Kintu's mind strayed to his wives, Babirye and Nnakato. He would rather have dealt with mutiny in his army than with Babirye, even though she was a replica of his beloved Nnakato. He never wanted to keep two women in the same house in the first place, not even identical twins.

Tradition claimed that identical twins were one soul who, failing to resolve the primal conflict in the self, split—and two people were born. The older twin, Babirye for girls, was supposedly the original soul. Nnakato, the younger twin, was the copy, the mutineer. But Kintu could not see how this could be true of his wives. For him, Nnakato was the original. Rather than being selfish, Nnakato was the pacifier who always allowed Babirye to have her own way. Surely it had to be Babirye who had fallen out with Nnakato. She had pushed and shoved until Nnakato stepped out of the way. Babirye was born first and became the dominant twin thereafter.

They were inside the second part of the forest. The foliage was wet as if it had just rained. The canopy blocked the early sun. Still, Kintu could see well. Huge mahogany trees rose and soared, splitting into a canopy of dense branches. The shrubs below were lanky, making thin undergrowth. The forest floor was carpeted in a thick layer of decomposing leaves. Tiny hard black seeds littered the ground. Once in a while, they came upon an ancient tree with roots wide and webbed above the ground that towered over the men.

From Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. By arrangement with Transit Books. Copyright © Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi 2017. All rights reserved.

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