The Triangle – Nakisanze Segawa

The Triangle

The cover image of Nakisanze Segawa’s The Triangle.

First things first, this book is an attractive print coming in from Uganda. I rarely see the print quality of The Triangle in other Ugandan books printed at home. You will also notice the size. It’s not another short story out of Uganda. No; it’s a full 366 paged novel that is divided into two parts- Book One and Book Two (poetically speaking I would have wanted a Book Three to add to the meaning of the title). So what did I think of it after the visual impression? Read on.

 

The Triangle is a novel that is set in Buganda of the late 1800’s. It picks from real life events in the Kingdom and the actors playing in the political works of the day. The Kabaka’s family and his government, the French (Catholics), the Brits (Anglicans), the Arabs (Muslims) and the colonialists.

 

What Nakisanze tries to add is personality. She attempts this by using a range of characters such as Mwanga,  Nagawa, Kalinda, Father Leonardo, Reverend Clement, Richard, Kawaddwa and more. I believe the idea is to show the human side to the events that were happening in the kingdom at the time. However, there are a lot of characters in this novel, sometimes it’s hard keeping up with who is who.

 

I feel that should not be problematic if the characters were memorable or had depth. Or if the events were well built and transitioned with ease.

 

There seems to be a lot of on-the-surface storytelling. Revealing a lot of externalities, but little internal struggle. It’s like a robotic tale, little consciousness from the characters. The strong characters to me include Sekitto and Babirye, perhaps it’s their small role in the whole tale that makes them most believable. They act authentically.

 

The problem with picking on events that happened is that we know what happened so the writer must be very skilled at humanising the story to make us part of it and not just spectators. I wanted to be present, feeling anxiety, pain, hope, loss but I wasn’t able to most of the time.  The author fails to convincingly humanise the story.

 

The Triangle is based on very many three pronged issues. There’s Buganda’s three kings in one year; the struggle for influence between the French, the British and the Arabs; the Christians, the Arabs and the traditionalists; Kalinda, Nagawa and Mwanga.

 

The triangles are there. However, despite their historical truth, are they justified in this book?

 

Let’s take for the one that has no historical place – Kalinda, Nagawa and Mwanga. The blurb of the novel seems to be centred around the page – Kalinda, and the Kabaka’s wife – Nagawa and their “rivalry”. The blurb says “…the beauty of Mwanga’s second wife, Nagawa threatens his relationship with the Kabaka.” With this in mind, I expected some tense moments, something more than suspicion that is never fulfilled. There was a lot of mention about how the two looked at each suspiciously, but beyond that, nothing.

 

For the issue of Mwanga and the martyring of the Christians, still the author draws more from the known history and does little to impress on the reader how much a threat these people were.

 

This is where I fault the characterisation.

 

It’s hard to find a strong character in this book. We know a lot about them buy barely get to know or understand them or the stories surrounding them. When it seems a character has been built well, then their story gets to an unexpected ending or “pause”.

 

Kalinda, for example, is meant to be a key character at least according to the blurb but there’s nothing memorable about him. His homosexual relationship with Mwanga is immediately obvious but it’s just that. He makes very strange decisions that cannot be backed up by reason. When he “betrays” the Kabaka whom he loves, it is not only unprecedented but confusing seeing as he’s not particularly enthralled with his new found religion.

 

For a time, I am wondering whether I remembered the Bishop Hannington story properly. Where does Mwanga’s suspicion come from? His brutality? Is it from his smoking of drugs? Why can’t his erratic behaviour be properly documented and given flesh.

 

The foreign characters in the book also leave a lot to be desired in terms of what they bring to the story. Richard seems to be the more believable of all them all. The others get lost in translation every now and then. Reverend Clement, Father Leonardo both look like cosmetic characters.

 

There is more urgency to the story in part two where a vicious Kabaka, Kalema, takes stage. It seems the book almost came alive as it drew to a close.

 

Nonetheless, many of the stories are incongruous and move unexpectedly. There are very many dots left to the reader to connect which reduces on the ease and enjoyment of reading. Perhaps the fires in the palace, the disappearance of a page, the involvement of Ankole, the death of Bukenya should make sense but it seems like one has to first read the history of Buganda to connect these dots yet I think the book should be trying to do it the other way round – show; do not tell.

 

The typos, the misspellings, are the most distracting. Nakisanze claims at the end of her book that any mistakes are hers but she owed it to the list of people she names to avoid these mistakes. The number of times rifle was spelt riffle; Kabalega being called Kabalenga, a rash being called a rush…, bitten spelt as beaten, were too many.

 

This book was ambitious. Trying to give a backstory to actual historical events is not easy. However, I think Nakisanze fails to ably handle the sheer number of events she was tackling in writ, the depth of the characters, the movement of the stories and the believability of the conflicts. I failed to get something to grab onto.

 

Frankly speaking, this novel lacked soul.

This review was written, for Turn The Page, by Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa.

Copies of this title are available for sale on Turn The Page’s online bookshop, which can be accessed by following this link.

 

A Dreaming Child – Dieudonne Gakire.

a-dreaming-child-2

The cover image of Dieudonne Gakire’s A Dreaming Child.

Monsieur Gakire’s A Dreaming Child was a difficult book to read. As a mother, reading about horrific atrocities meted out on innocent children during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, quite simply, broke my heart. As an English speaker, reading a book conceived by a French speaker meant I had to constantly let go of my innate reflex to fix the grammar.

Despite these ‘difficulties’, I was inspired by the stories documented in the book of young people that endured hell on earth and survived. I was amazed by the courage exhibited by the writer in approaching some of the perpetrators of the genocide in order to listen to and document their side of the story. I was struck by the rawness of the accounts of the author and the other contributors of life before, during and after the genocide. I shed tears quite a bit in the course of my reading as I acknowledged how the suffering described could easily have been in any other African country.

This is an important book. It needed to be written to present the Rwanda genocide story from the perspective of the young people who lived through such a terrible experience as children. The core message of the book, which I agree with completely, is that this kind of thing should never happen again in Rwanda. The book calls for unity and for the young generation of Rwandans to reject the divisionism and hatred between the two main tribes of the country that largely led to the break out of the genocide.

The stories in this book should be read by young people across the continent so that they can, hopefully, be part of making the commitment that Africans must stop killing each other on the basis of such a banal reason as tribal difference.

This book obviously invokes feelings of deep sadness but it also inspires hope that if young people can choose to walk the path of light, the darkness of genocide and all manner of war will be overcome.

This review was written, for Turn The Page, by Lynn Turyatemba.
Copies of this title are available on Turn The Page’s online bookshop, which can be accessed here.

A Conspiracy Of Ravens – Othuke Ominiabohs.

ravens

The cover image of Othuke Ominiabohs’ A Conspiracy Of Ravens.

Read the book so we can discuss it without risk of spoilers. I have nothing against spoilers but my siblings would disown me for sure.  Read the book. Have I said that already? Then I say again, read the book.

If you enjoy fast paced action stories in their dispense of reality, multiple characters acting, reacting, building this magnificent tension bubble that explodes in predictable melodrama, you will love this book.

If you enjoy reading for the love of words (duh!), you will love Ominiaboh’s description of Nigeria. Its geography, cities, roads, and people. Nigeria is a formidable character that eclipses the central character (from the blurb) in every way. It moves and suffocates in the swamps, is still and endless at sea, furtive and menacing along winding dirt roads, loud and bossy in the city. It is assertive, determined and will not be ignored.

Once you’re done with the ambushes, machine guns blaring, conspiracies unraveling, the true gem in this story shines through. The villains and heroes in this Nigerian tragedy are Nigerians. He, Ominiabohs, does try to include philosophical discussions on tragedies of the Nigerian state but thankfully the story doesn’t suffer from it.

And it’s all written in English. In well translated English (obviously not everyone speaks English). Ominiabohs had the decency to assume that the narrator of the story understood all languages excellently and was able to translate to English perfectly. None of that ‘notable’ African writing that insists on stilted writing in English to emphasize the use of another tongue. As a result his story rolls comfortably forward keeping up with all the action!

However, to truly enjoy the book, I had to do two things.

First; ignore the blurb. It was misleading. I went in expecting Alex Randa to do some major detecting and bum kicking. Well…

Secondly, bear with disappointing female characters as a whole. They came across as malformed, including Alex. However, this is a struggle I have with many, many books. It did not stop me from enjoying the story.

A definite 7.5/10. Those female characters stole the 2.5.

This review was written, for Turn The Page, by Rachel Kunihira.

Copies of the title are available for sale on the online bookstore.