BookBrowse Reviews A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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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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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 560 pages

    Paperback:
    Jun 2021, 450 pages

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In Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi's luminous second novel, a young woman comes of age in Uganda in the 1970s while searching for her missing mother.

First Impressions readers were fascinated by A Girl Is a Body of Water, a riveting and nuanced novel set in Uganda, awarding it an average score of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

What it's about:

Kirabo is a 'special child.' She was 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 (Naomi B).

Readers appreciated the opportunity to learn about Ugandan culture and language...

A fascinating journey into Ugandan culture. The author uses her gifts for crafting narrative and language to examine the particulars of a patriarchal and storytelling culture and how Christianity impacts and challenges families and social structures (Claire M). It was quite an experience traveling to Uganda through this book, learning about this rich culture: family, village life, beliefs and the unrest and civil war in the 1980s. I loved the storytelling within the storytelling. It was like sitting around a fire and listening to your grandmother tell tales of long ago about why life is the way it is now. A very captivating story of a young girl coming of age: falling in love, attending school, experiencing pain. But through it all, she endures (Sonia F).

...particularly the author's approach to the experiences of women in Uganda:

There's such a contradiction between the expectations and demands and treatment of Ugandan women (by the men of course) vs. the raw internal strength and impenetrable will of these women when the men aren't around. But even though the men and the culture take what appears to be everything from the women (including losing both their first and last names upon marriage) the women always persevere, and beautifully. It's ultimately an incredibly informative, educational and uplifting story that feels so very real (Shaun D).

Some found the novel a little difficult or felt it took some time to get invested...

Maybe it's my choice of books lately but I haven't been anywhere near this challenged by a book, start to finish, in a very long time. My advice is to stick with it because it's hands-down one of the best books I have ever read. It challenged me in myriad ways, from the language (which is so beautifully lyrical) to the cultural references to the geography and history of Uganda, all of which forced me to read at a much slower and more careful rate than usual, pausing frequently to do research. This frustrated me at first but ultimately benefited my understanding and appreciation of the book as a whole (Shaun D). It took about 75 pages for the story to hook me and then I couldn't stop reading. I cared about each character (Sandy F). I found the first part (200 pages) to be very slow. I actually put the book down for a few weeks. I picked it up again about a week ago and flew through the last part. It was beautifully written and took me away to Uganda in the 1970s and '80s. That is no mean feat during these trying times so I applaud the author. I look forward to her next book (Susan C).

...but most found the challenge more than worthwhile and recommend A Girl Is a Body of Water, especially for book clubs:

Makumbi weaves a thoughtful tale with the threads of clan relationships and rivalries, with strong elements of expanding feminism, with the values of schooling all set against a political background of government vs. rebellion. Book clubs should find rich material for discussion. In my view this is an excellent novel and a good read, albeit at times the path is strewn with unfamiliar language. Readers should feel rewarded for traveling on these Ugandan roads in Kirabo's shoes (Darrell W). Young women especially may identify with the theme of coming of age, regardless of culture. The main family characters are strong and thoughtful. The novel shifts between past and present to support a tender story highly recommended for book club discussion (Margaret F). I cared about each character — and there are many. I enjoyed this book and highly recommend it. This is not an easy read but it is worth it. A rich and compelling story (Sandy F).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in September 2020, and has been updated for the July 2021 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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