Book: Manchester Happened
Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
Genre: General Fiction, Short Story Anthology
This review first appeared on Obukiko in August of last year and back then I didn’t know how to write a review for an anthology. I think I did okay though.
(Cracks fingers and neck) Let’s do this.
Manchester Happened Or, if you’re American, Let Us Tell This Story Properly, is an anthology of twelve short stories. It is an exceptional follow up to the critically acclaimed Kintu, a book that won Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi the Windham Campbell prize for fiction. (🎵Money money money🎶)
The anthology is divided into two parts, Departing and Returning. The first half is filled with stories about Ugandans arriving in England with their ears wet and their hearts full of hope. The very first story in the first half of the book, Our Allies the Colonies introduces the reader to the harsh realities of Manchester city and the divide between the haves and have-nots. This is done through the eyes of two sailors from Tanganyika and Uganda.
In the second half of the book, Returning, has her characters venturing back home to Uganda, be it for a marriage ceremony, a funeral, a circumcision or for good.
Makumbi’s writing in this book reflects the challenges that Ugandans who leave home for Bulaaya (abroad) in search for greener pastures, face. And the struggle they have in coming back home.
This book is unapologetically Ugandan. It is littered with what I can only call Ugandanisms, tics character traits and a peculiar use of language that is unique to Ugandans. The author is unapologetic about this. She says, if she can understand Shakespeare, then surely, the western world can understand her.
Like in Kintu, she doesn’t strive to make the language palatable for Western audiences, but that is the magic of Makumbi. She holds your hand and shows you Uganda with all its beauty and imperfections. Her characters are not one-dimensional. They are relatable. There’s the complex grandmother, the hardworking Poonah, the boy who wants to connect with his Masaba roots, the one returning home from a sikaalasip. They are everyday Ugandans. And there’s also a story told from a dog’s point of view which is one of my favourites just for the creativity.
The anthology is more than just about the immigrant’s dilemma. At its heart, the book is about family and the powerful human desire we all have to connect and belong. The characters find that they are outsiders in the country they have adopted as home and when they return to their home country, they find they are outsiders too. Neither here nor there. So, where do they truly belong?
In summation, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi told these stories properly. Buy the book. Read the book. If you’re in Uganda, I know African Writers Trust has copies of this book at 60,000shs. Just call Mark Akampurira on +256753033086.
P.S: In Obukiko’s very first ‘In Conversation’ Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi teased her next book, First Woman, and I for one can’t wait for it to come out in September. I’m sharing the link so you can see the brilliance of the woman. https://obukiko.com/forums/topic/in-conversation-with-jennifer-makumbi/
P.S.S: you also need to check out Khanani Daniella’s review over at Resolute Scribbles. She did awesome! Her review encouraged me to shift this one to this blog.