Summary and book reviews of A Girl is A Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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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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.

Published as The First Woman in the UK.

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.

THE WITCH

1
Nattetta, Bugerere, Ugand

May 1975

Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her. She was curious on occasion (Where is she? What does she look like? How does it feel to have a mother?, that sort of thing), but whenever she asked about her and family said, "No one knows about her," in that never-mind way of large families, she dropped it. After all, she was with family and she was loved. But then recently her second self, the one who did mad things, had started to fly out of her body, and she had linked the two.

On this occasion, when she asked about her mother and family fobbed her off again with "Don't think about her; think about your grandparents and your father," something tore. It must have been the new suspicion (Maybe she does not want me because I am ...) that cut like razors.


A mosquito came zwinging. It must have gorged itself on some-one because its song was slow and deep, unlike the skinny, high-pitched hungry ones that flew as if crazed. Kirabo's ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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)...continued

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(Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Media Reviews

Refinery29
At turns rapturous and devastating...Makumbi's writing uplifts and inspires, evoking the grand tradition of folklore and stories passed down, one woman to the next.

New York Times
Makumbi's prose is irresistible and poignant, with remarkable wit, heart, and charm—poetic and nuanced, brilliant and sly, openhearted and cunning, balancing discordant truths in wise ruminations. A Girl is a Body of Water rewards the reader with one of the most outstanding heroines and the incredible honor of journey by her side.

Sunday Times
A novel bursting with resilience and warmth...Mixing the mythic and the modern, happily ignoring formal neatness to encompass Uganda's miscellaneousness, it's an enthralling achievement.

Publishers Weekly
This beautifully rendered saga is a riveting deconstruction of social perceptions of women's abilities and roles.

Library Journal
Makumbi is a mesmerizing storyteller, slowly pulling readers in with a captivating cast of multifaceted characters and a soupc¸on of magical realism guaranteed to appeal to fans of Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, or Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
In its depiction of both singular characters and a village community, this book is a jewel.

Author Blurb Namwali Serpell, The Old Drift
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'!

Author Blurb Maaza Mengiste, The Shadow King
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.

Author Blurb Sylvia Tamale
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.

Reader Reviews

Michael Jessica

A Girl is a Body of Water
This book is very intriguing and fascinating. It is about the story of a brave girl who wants to know her mother. It is indeed a tale for all girls.
Shaun D. (Woodridge, IL)

A Challenging but So Worthwhile Read
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. This book challenged ...   Read More
Claire M. (Sarasota, FL)

A Girl Is a Body of Water
A fascinating journey into an African culture, specifically Uganda, in which the author uses her gifts of storytelling and language to examine the particulars of a patriarchal and storytelling culture. The ways of speaking which move from Bantu and ...   Read More
Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)

A Girl is a Body of Water
This is a wonderful book about a girl growing up in Uganda. It tells her story as she is raised in a small village by grandparents and others who teach her traditional ways. Her story continues as she begins to becomes school educated and is exposed ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Women in Uganda

Ugandan women working on machinery provided by UNDPIn A Girl Is a Body of Water, set in the 1970s-'80s, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi presents a compelling protagonist named Kirabo who is coming of age in Uganda and learning what it means to be a woman from her grandmother, aunts and other women in her village. Like most cultures, Ugandan society is largely patriarchal in structure. Women are generally expected to care for the household and children, despite the fact that many also perform paid labor outside of the home. A 2018 report by OXFAM indicates that it is viewed as socially unacceptable for men to engage in household duties because these are traditionally "a woman's task." The same study notes that 62 percent of women surveyed reported their husbands having paid a "bride price"—...

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