Monday, December 21, 2020

A Girl is a Body of Water

  A Girl is a Body of Water
Author:  Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Publication Information:  Tin House Publishing. 2020. 560 pages.
ISBN:  1951142047 / 978-1951142049

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Until that night, Kirabo had not cared about her."

Favorite Quote:  "Remember, be a good person, not a good girl. Good girls suffer a lot in this life."

"Apparently, both women and the sea were baffling, changeful:  today they are this, tomorrow they are that ... Water has no shape, depending on where it flows. The sea is inconsistent, it cannot be tamed, it does not yield to human cultivation, it cannot be owned; you cannot draw borders on the ocean. To the ancients, women belonged with the sea..."

This the story the ancients told to establish the control of a patriarchal Ugandan world in which twelve year old Kirabo is growing up. "Stories have such power you cannot imagine. that one turned women into migrants on land. Since then, women have been rootless - moved not just across places but clans, tribes, national, even races."

Kirabo is being raised by her grandparents - her father's parents. Her father lives in the city and visits occasionally. Her mother is a mystery that Kirabo wants to unravel. Who is she? Where is she? Why does she not want Kirabo? 

Although the main character is Kirabo, this is the story of many women, each depicting some aspect of the patriarchal, male dominated society. Kirabo, Alikisa, Ya, Abi, Gayi, Nnambi, Nsuutta, Nnakku, Giibwa, and other that I have possibly forgotten. Their stories are centered in the decisions and actions of the men in their lives - mainly Miiro, Tom, and Sio.

These characters are all interconnected and part of the whole picture being painted about being a woman and finding a voice and a place in this society. However, there are a lot of characters and it takes a long while to figure out which ones to remember and pay attention to. It seems like I get the main idea of the story and some of the character but there are likely details and story lines I missed as well. Some of the stories are not well developed and leave me wishing the book had dived deeper into that character of story thread.

The beginning of the book introduces an element of magical realism. Unfortunately, that story never develops or goes anywhere. I would love to know if that depiction of a woman's natural state and the way it is housed within a person has to do with Ugandan history or mythology. The books never explains it.

One main reason for my choosing this book is its setting in Uganda. This is possibly the first book I have read set in that nation and culture. The book mentions some of the political struggles in the nation, but that history is not central to this story. The key point of the book is the male-dominated, patriarchy which is clearly depicted. The language and some of the rites and festivals provide insight into culture as well. Diversity and representation in literature matters, and I find fiction a way of introduction to worlds I know nothing about.

The main theme of the book comes together, but perhaps fewer characters and greater depth to each would have created a story that resonated more emotionally.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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