Manchester Happened - Something Bookish

My first thought when I finished Manchester Happened was, Aunty Jennifer has neatly carved out a very unique space for herself in African Literature and I am here for it! It’s like she knows that most Westerners will always read African Literature the one way they know how so she has found a way to illuminate them out of “the single story.”

If you’ve read my review of KINTU, you already know I’m a card-carrying member of the Jennifer Makumbi fan club, t-shirts will be printed soon. And yes, she is my aunty. But I digress, Manchester Happened is amazing, have you heard about it? I’m here to share the Good News.

Manchester Happened - Something Bookish

Category: Fiction, Short Stories
Publisher: OneWorld Publications
Published: July 2019, paperback
Length: 303

“Manchester Happened” Blurb

“If there’s one thing the characters in Jennifer Makumbi’s stories know, it’s how to field an uncomfortable question.

‘Let me buy you a cup of tea…what are you doing in England?’
‘Do these children of yours speak any Luganda?’
‘Did you know that man Idi Amin?’

But perhaps the most difficult question of all is the one they ask themselves: ‘You mean this is England?’

Told with empathy, humour and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong. “

From OneWorld

Should You Bother Reading “Manchester Happened”?

In this collection, Aunty Jennifer speaks to the struggles of immigration. She shares the frustrating experiences that a lot of Africans in the diaspora would relate to. The collection is very different from her previous novel in that KINTU is more about Ugandan culture while this is about Ugandan identity in the diaspora. I think it was brilliant to do that in the short story form because we got to read the different experiences from so many POVs.

Manchester Happened - Something Bookish

My favourite was from the POV of a dog. Do you have any idea how talented a writer has to be to tell a dog’s migrant story? It’s genius! You cannot run away from the subtle undertones of alienation, struggle with identity, and finding a home away from home. Aunty Jennifer’s stories remind us of the validity of our collective and individual experiences.

I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone who hasn’t read it so I just want to say this. Aunty Jennifer is very aware of the Western reader. I’ve read some reviews of people who feel that this collection panders to the Western audience as Chimamanda Adichie did in Americanah but I beg to differ.

Originally, her first novel KINTU was rejected by Western publishers for being “too African.” You can almost tell that, while she is still being unapologetically Ugandan, this time she brings in Western readers into the fold in a way that keeps her authenticity intact.

So, if this is your first time of reading Jennifer Makumbi, start with Manchester Happened and then dive into KINTU. So, should you bother reading “Manchester Happened”? You’d be doing a huge disservice to yourself if you don’t.

This book was gifted to me by @OneWorld Publications , the hardback is already out but the paperback will be out July 2019.

About The Author

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi was born and raised in Uganda.  While she won awards for plays she wrote while in high school, she didn’t think of creative writing as a career, instead, she became an English teacher.  But Jennifer longed to have an outlet for her writing, and she decided to take the very daring step of leaving her teaching position and going to the UK to do a Masters degree in creative writing.  

Manchester Happened - Something Bookish Review
My aunty!

In 2003, initially inspired by her own father’s battle with schizophrenia, Jennifer started writing what would become her first published novel ‘Kintu’. She was also intrigued by the way the western world characterizes Africa as a “place of madness”.  Jennifer approached several publishers with her manuscript, but despite winning major awards, including the Commonwealth prize, none of the international publishers were interested in her book.

Aunty Jennifer at the launch of Manchester Happened in Nairobi

Jennifer eventually won the Kwani Manuscript Project in 2013, and the book was published in Africa in 2014 by Kwani. In 2018, Jennifer was awarded the Wyndham-Campbell prize, which is considered the richest price in literature. Jennifer is currently doing research for her second novel, currently called ‘The Women.’ 

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