KINTU | Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 432, paperback
Publisher: OneWorld Publications
A Short Summary(Blurb): Uganda’s history reimagined through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan in an award-winning debut.
In 1750, Kintu Kidda unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. In this ambitious tale of a clan and of a nation, Makumbi weaves together the stories of Kintu’s descendants as they seek to break from the burden of their shared past and reconcile the inheritance of tradition and the modern world that is their future.
RATING: 5 out of 5 stars
At one point, I felt this book was going to be my first video review but decided against it because I will be a blubbering mess. To those who have read this book, when you experience this kind of literary adventure, you kinda have to let me know, okay? Tell me, “Amyn, you need to fucking read this book ASAP!”
Kintu is a modern classic, an epic reimagining of Ugandan history told through multiple generations of the cursed Kintu clan. The story opens with the sudden death of Kamu Kintu in 2004, a man whose new 5-CD changer and tiny television made neighbors consider him a thief.
Having established the modern setting that prevails for most of the book, Makumbi then shifts gears back 1750 to lay the foundation for the Kunta curse: Kintu Kidda, the governor of Buddu Province, takes an ill-fated journey through a barren landscape to pay his respects to the new king.
When he returns home without a beloved soldier, the man’s father puts a curse on Kintu: mental illness, sudden death, and suicide will plague his family for generations to come.
The rest of Kintu is broken into stand-alone chapters detailing the life of one cursed relative after another while also exploring the changing landscape in Uganda through flashback and vivid conversation.
Each section follows Makumbi’s fantastic structural technique, beginning with the character’s narrative in present day, then spiraling out to fill in historical and personal gaps before returning to the present with fresh perspective.
As the novel goes on, Makumbi reaches back again and again for touchstones she created in earlier chapters, keeping readers fully enveloped in Kintu history – when a ghost tells a character “you’re my Nnakato,” we feel the full force of the statement.
Makumbi maintains this delicate balance between present and past so beautifully, so consistently, that when the Kintu clan finally reunites the result is a powerful series of cross-generational reveals.
I really don’t want to give too much away, this is one of those books you have to experience yourself. Though Jennifer Makumbi says her book is not a feminist work, her book delves into aspects of patriarchy and paternity; showing up its fragility, the illusion of control, and the roles society imprisons itself.
The book also explores mental health, the characters battle depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis. If mental health problems were caused by the supernatural, also in this book, mental illness seems to travel along Kintu’s kin like its a blood curse.
I really hope the success of Kintu encourages other writers from within the vast storytelling traditions of the many African countries to continue to tell their stories and international publishers continue to make them available to the wider reading public, who are indeed interested in these lives, cultures, histories and belief systems of old that continue to resonate in the modern-day, despite political policies and power regimes that seem to want to change them.
Highly recommended. If you’re in Nigeria and want a copy of this book, reach out to @Something__Bookish on Instagram.