OBITUARY: Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa.

An endarkened image of Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa, during the Turn The Page Africa book club meeting of June 29, 2016, when we had a retrospective reflective on Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu, a title he loved and that we enjoyed conversing about.

 

By the time you read this, you will have probably read much of what several people have written about Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa; about who he was, and what he was capable of doing. It is those same things that made him, if I may, popular; and that drew you towards him.

It is, therefore, rather complex, puzzling and mysterious for me to paint a picture of the life of a man who spent his life painting pictures, one who did not proceed with any piece of writing because, he said to me, he treated it like a painting and did not want to mess up with its composition. He was one who respected every stroke of the brush he made while in the process.

It would, therefore, be a disastrous risk to make a mess of any reflections of a life well painted. It is a daunting task. A scary one. I do not know where to begin or where to end. I will run on and on, because, as Joel taught me, I should never leave anything unfinished.

In my case, I have after days of contemplation and pushing through so much pain on the realization of the impact of the loss, and the imagination of a world without Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa – chosen to remember and celebrate him from two perspectives; as a patient and as a partner; and then from the two, draw lessons which can help inspire us to follow in his lead and be better.

Of Pain, And The Endurance Of It

Joel was a man whose endurance had been tested, tried and found to be as tight as a drum. His life was one of pain, immense pain, whether he was alright or not so. When he was alright, he was worrying. When he was low, he was frightening. On both occasions, he kept cheerful when we talked, and was always hopeful of better days. The bright moments he shared with us could be interpreted as the only alternative he had away from his pain. We are only blessed that he shared that alternative with us.

To me, Joel had traversed the cliché that is the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, but he had done it all backward. On realization that his illness – sickle cell anaemia – was terminal, he accepted his fate and lived with the knowledge that it would hurt and that it would, after all the challenges that there are, be the end of his life’s journey.

However, before that, he was also well aware that he had things to achieve, and the ability to achieve them, and that it was all up to him to do so.

When his caretaker, Aunt Monica, his Mother, Mrs. Nyanzi Deborah, and all the people with whom I visited him in hospital were concerned about his dehydration, his weight loss, his poor appetite and more, his mind was always set on returning to the swing of things, to work, to deliver on promises he had made, to have the meetings he had missed, and to beat the deadlines he had set even when it was those same things that brought both him and us back to his sick bed.

To him, and us, his passing on would be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness was a process. And he went through his process, rather quite fearlessly. On Tuesday, February 13, 2018, we laid Joel to rest in his final resting place in Mityana, Uganda, and in doing so, put an end to a life of immeasurable pain.

Of Pain, And The Zeal To Deal With It

Joel was not the easiest of patients to take care of. He scared some of us. I, for one, am not a person who pays attention to sleeping, feeding, eating and resting but seeing Joel choose only a bottle of juice over water or food had me saying things like; “Joel, when it comes to food, eat like you are taking medicine.” I really wanted him to get better, stronger, and healthier. On days when Joel’s situation deteriorated, and his Mother’s blood pressure rose, I was on the hunt for obushera – refreshing millet floor porridge – for its nutritious value. His medicine, I noticed, overwhelmed him. Our kashera could have helped him take in the nutrients he needed to reduce his dizziness. Tusiime Samson and I were considering options for a bone marrow transplant, even when Joel had assured me that he was past the age when he could be eligible for one.

Even in all this effort to get him better, Joel did not mind much about our options. He had already stared pain in the face and, unbeknownst to us, probably said to it; “You cannot touch me, I will beat you however much you try me.”

He, thus, did not want to be felt pity for. He, intriguingly, never gave people enough reasons to feel sad for him, which was admirable. I remember a moment in early 2017; January 2017, after visiting him and realizing that he was not at all well, I returned to his hospital room with the good friend that is Crystal Butungi Rutangye, one of the many I had invited to visit him. It was not her first time to visit/see him in a hospital. He never wanted her to visit in a hospital, she noted. I am not sure – of course, but I was probably right when I told Crystal that Joel did not want us to see him in his moments of weakness.

I feel terrible knowing that for all the times he was in and out of hospital, I was there, be it on a weekdays or weekends, but I was not there on this one day that happened to be his last there. I feel horrible knowing that while he was on his hospital bed, fighting his last fight, I was, in tandem, leaving him messages that he is yet to receive, that he will never receive.

I told Joel whenever he told me that he was too sick to be seen, that he should not tell me that nonsense again for I was going to see him whether he wanted or did not.

I wish that I could rewind the hands of time, so that he could receive my texts, and respond to them with four little words; I am in hospital, the same words he always needed to say for me go share in his company.

Of Pushing Through The Pain, Together

Due to recurring relapses, Joel’s visit to the hospital -Pearl Medical Centre in Kansanga, Kampala, the only hospital he had chosen because of its proximity to home, and because of the decent care they rendered him – I had become friends with some of his nurses – were frequent. His hospital bed was the battlefield on which we made decisions, plotted, made moves, and registered a few successes together.

On his bed – it is not that there were no chairs, but we got used to encroaching on his bed – we all agreed in our lament about hospitals, in general, especially those that pretended to care for sickle cell anaemia patients, like Nsambya and Mulago, which are failures to many who were there in the same boat and on the same ocean as Joel. He could not be served at the former, and he was ignored at the latter. He chose to be administered to at Pearl Medical Centre.

It was in the hospital that we talked a whole lot, as if we had never talked before and were now in a talking competition, about writing, editing, publishing, poetry, prose, art, events, people, girls, moments – isms, family, friends and, most importantly, God.

We, Crystal and I, encouraged him to write a book on more for, at the very least, the sake of immortality. I would keep reminding him, Crystal would help with the editing, and we would all work together in sourcing for a publisher that was good enough and willing to take on the mantle of publishing his works.

By April 2017, Joel mentioned to us that he had hard work he had either finished or was about to and whose manuscripts he was going to share with those concerned in September 2017. I was pleased, immensely, when he made Pumpkin Soup available to the public. It was the beginning of what would be glad tidings.

In the duration of two years of working together as colleagues at Turn The Page Africa, Joel had written, and we had published all his eleven book reviews and he had compered several book club meetings, #TTPBookMeet, which was a hash tag he came up with.

He was such a wonderful host that the conversations we had when we met never ended. On several occasions, we had to be chased out of our meeting places, like Kanjokya House, before we took them to other, more accommodating venues like Afri-Art Gallery or onto streets, and in parking lots, until our tongues were too heavy to talk any further.

Joel, The Colleague, And Spring Of Inspiration And Encouragement

Talking, however, was not enough. I involved myself in activities that I thought would be sending rays of hope and of positivity towards Joel. For example, when, as a marathon-tourist, I ran the Kabaka’s Birthday Run 2017, which was themed on the cause that was eliminating sickle cells, I dedicated it to him.

In my post-marathon, reflective blog, I noted, truly, thus;

My run and blog about this year’s Kabaka Birthday Run were/are both dedicated to Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa, a.k.a Nevender, a friend of mine who labours under the challenge of this terminal illness, one whom I have grown to call my brother. I pray for him and others like him every other day and hope that they get better. My love for them is timeless.

We were, later, disappointed that the hundreds of millions of shillings which were made by the organizing committee, headed by a one Mr. Kabushenga, did not do anything we could identify for the benefit of sicklers in Uganda. I remember a moment when Joel and I compared notes and argued with a boda boda guy who claimed that the money collected had been put to good use, a claim he posited because one of his relations had benefited from it.  We are yet to see what it really did. I told Joel that all it was an opportunity for the organisers to get a handshake from the Kabaka (King).

Ma’ Man, My Hero!

In January 2017, Joel had spent the previous three months in and out hospital. I had spent the same period deeply depressed. I was totally dormant. I could not deliver on anything, no matter how much I tried. While seating beside him on his hospital bed, I told him about my failures, which provoked him to retort with the question; Why didn’t you tell me? I could have done that for you.

Coming from a person who had spent the same time in and out of hospital I was stunned. There sat a man who was at one of his lowest moments then, being offered help from a man who lay beside him for the reason of being in an even lower moment than the man who sat beside him. It was moments like that that made Joel my man, my hero.

He went on to applaud us (Turn The Page Africa) and to share his appreciation for our efforts. He said, and I paraphrase; the movement you are leading; literature, literature is growing again, like the way it used to be back in the day, because it had totally disappeared. I was and will be always be grateful for that comment (because I understand the nature of the industry that we operate in) and will always remember it as I work on bettering my best.

Joel and I were/are all about progress. We always talked about the next thing, and worked towards getting onto it. All our E-mails, texts, calls, tête-à-tête were characterized by messages laced with a sense of direction that was moving or going only forward and upwards. We did not have time for any other distractions. At another time, one that I recall, I said to him that “We have to move all the time “, and he responded by saying that “We shall”. Joel was my champion, our champion.

Joel and I were/are big dreamers. We had/have big dreams, at least within our shared literacy pursuits. He wanted to be published, and while he was disappointed that his work was rejected by a publisher in Kampala because it had a lot of death in it, we joined his guests of the day in laughing when I told them that my work was rejected by a publisher in Nairobi because it had a lot of love in it.

Joel wanted to be the biggest, best known reviewer of books in Africa. I had started on my nascent idea and dream of being the biggest, best known distributor of books in Africa. We gave him the sign-in credentials to the backend of our website, ttpafrica.com, and our social media accounts so that he could enjoy himself while he did what he loved, while I tried to grow the business prong of the company.

Whenever a new book was made available, especially a work of prose, he was the first person to get a review copy, while Raymond Lule, a gentleman we both respected and talked about as gifted when we recommended him to Crystal, got his share of works of poetry. When he got people inquiring about the availability of books, he shared their contacts with me, and asked me to take care of them.

We would meet, together with other like-minded, and other interested persons to have conversations on books in #TTPBookMeet, the book club meetings. We sure did enjoy every moment we shared.

Of Joel’s Work Ethic

Joel was gifted with a quality that is rather quite rare in these parts, that of work ethic. Whatever it is that he set his sight on or mind to, he did, irrespective of the challenges along his path. You could say that he was bullish or aggressive about his methods of work, but it was all for good. I still do not understand where he found the time or the guts, but he always delivered, and well. He worked so hard, and he complimented his efforts with attention to detail.

I once spent a moment with him at the Pearl Guide offices when Malcolm Bigyemano and I had gone there for a meeting, and observing him perfecting a flyer for an upcoming alcohol related event. I could not understand why he concentrated on it so much yet he did not even drink alcohol. That was Joel for you. He, also, made my life easier whenever he left it up to me to post his reviews. I did not have to edit them. My proof reading was only for purposes of doing my due diligence.

It was by his works that he was known. It was his works that helped him open the windows that he needed to connect to and preach tot both the physical and the virtual worlds, those both here and away.

I have told people who had never met him, and those who did not know him, like Hannah Onoguwe in Yenagoa, Nigeria, Usher Komugisha in Casabalanca, Morocco, Kasichana Riziki Mumba in Nairobi, Kenya, Timothy Kaboya in Kigali, Rwanda, Nimrod Muhumuza in Pretoria, South Africa, and Timothy Masiko in Nottingham, to mention but a few, that I do not know how to respond to their condolence messages, or how to console them but that they can find comfort in keeping the memories they have of him close to heart, and remember him by reading and appreciating every simple message that Joel left us.

It was through his works that Joel left his mark upon every one of us. I have grown to learn and accept that no matter who you are and/or how old you are, God takes us, any and/or every one of us when he is satisfied that we have given or shared with the world (however small or big that world is) whatever small or big things that he put us on earth for.

I am confident and will find consolation in knowing that Joel left his mark upon many, and that through his work, his name will not be forgotten. Like Chuma Nwokolo, the author of, inter alia, The Extinction Of Menai, (and one whose work Joel loved and last reviewed) tweeted when he borrowed from the aforementioned title; Joel might be gone, but he is not extinct. God does not take you away until you left your mark.

Of A World Without Joel

I am yet to conceive what a world without Joel looks and feels like, I have failed to imagine it. I do not want to. I do not want to live in a world less cheerful, less comforting, less knowledgeable, less positive, less engaging, less colourful, and less of the virtues and beliefs Joel upheld.

In losing Joel, we have lost a champion for many of us, young and/or old and an angel who walked amongst us. As day comes, and night falls, for the rest of our lives, we will all miss him.

I will forever be glad and satisfied that I met, and worked with and shared a couple of years with Joel, and that nothing kept us at bay whether he was not feeling well or when he was better.

It has been said that I have a big, accommodating heart, but it does not in any way compare to Joel’s. Joel introduced me to, or rather connected me with people I did not know, people that I would have missed, people that, looking back, are now what I consider pieces of the Joel Jigsaw Puzzle, one that is incomplete because he was the first and last piece. I will take it upon myself to stay connected with them and always appreciate them while we remember and celebrate Joel’s life. Certainly, it was not for nothing.

Dude, these might not be the right kind of words to say in this country of ours, but, just like I told you several times before; I love(d) you. Our love is, like I wrote to you, timeless.

May your beautiful soul rest in eternal peace, Ma’ Man!

This writing, by Alexander Twinokwesiga, appears here because Turn The Page Africa would not be much, and would be without much to celebrate if it was not for the contribution of Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa. We are and will forever be sincerely grateful for his efforts, advice, and company.

Kingdom Of Gravity – Nick Makoha

Nick Makoha’s Kingdom Of Gravity.

Kingdom of Gravity is written by Nick Makoha, a poet born in Uganda whose other works include Resurrection Man, The Second Republic and Lost Collection of Invisible Man.

Thefirst time I read Kingdom of Gravity, I didn’t get what I was looking for.

I had heard a lot about the poet that I sought a deeper hidden meaning of the poems that I was reading. It took a second unbiased reading that I was able to appreciate the story and message that Nick ably portrays in the anthology.

The poetry is centered on the time during the tyranny of Idi Amin in Uganda and the fight for liberation from his rule.

The cover of the book is intriguing. At first sight, it will draw your wondering mind,  preparing you for the story being narrated throughout the anthology.

The poems that precede the sections in the book show that the writer penned down the poems either at an airport lounge or on a plane.

The writer vividly describes the after math of war, the plight of those that were persecuted, turmoil, the fear, assault and violation of rights during Idi Amin’s time.

The mood is somber, filled with caution, pain, and a reminder that history has taught us nothing. The sarcasm employed by the writer whilst he illustrates corruption and bribery as business as usual is a reminder of the sad reality that is contemporary Uganda.

The history told through the poems is eye opening and an echo of voices seldomly heard. A good and must read for everyone who seeks to know the history of Uganda.

This review, of Nick Makoha’s Kingdom Of Gravity, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Hazel Birungi.

You can get yourself a copy by purchasing it from our online bookshop, which is accessible via ttpafrica.com

Kamwe Kamwe Nigwo Muganda – Rita Kenkwanzi.

The cover image of Rita Kenkwanzi’s Kamwe Kamwe Nigwo Muganda And Other Lessons From My Father.

I carried Rita Kenkwanzi’s Kamwe Kamwe Nigwo Muganda And Other Lessons From My Father to work many times. Each time someone saw it at my desk, they asked incredulously: “You are reading a whole book in Runyankore?” I was quite amused each time because I do read Runyankore very easily thanks to my mother’s lessons and the book is not entirely in Runyankore/Rukiga. That made me wonder though, about why it is so unbelievable that an educated person of a certain heritage can read their mother tongue. Many people I know can read English easily but stumble through texts in their own languages. So I enjoyed this book partly because of the way Rita weaves Rukiga proverbs into the fabric of her and her father’s life.

 

Of course, it is common for us to write eulogies when our loved ones pass. How often do we celebrate people while they are alive? How many times do you tell your parents, friends, siblings, that they are wonderful and you appreciate them? I thought it was extremely heartwarming that Miss Kenkwanzi chose to write about her dad while he is here. I hope reading this book will encourage you to tell your people more often that you value them. The comments from family and friends was a nice touch. It really brought Chris Kataama the man to life! I am convinced I would be tempted to run up to him and say hello if I met him.

 

I enjoyed her simple but poignant conversational style of writing. The use of old adages and proverbs along with their lessons lent the book authenticity because we all know how our elders often express themselves in the mother tongue. I definitely recommend this book, though I must warn you that the picture she paints of her family is so vivid and so beautiful, that one may turn green with envy!

This review, of Rita Kenkwanzi’s Kamwe Kamwe Nigwo Muganda And Other Lessons From My Father, a 2017 publication, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Ophelia Kemigisha.

Copies of the book are available for you to purchase.

The Extinction Of Menai – Chuma Nwokolo

 

Godmenai! Amis andgus. Rubiesu… Aiyegun Yesi Yemanagu…

 

I find myself mumbling a language I cannot understand as I drift in and out of the pages towards the end of Chuma’s riveting epic – The Extinction of Menai.

 

I am not sure I can say this is a feat for Chuma especially because of his storytelling history – The Ghost of Sani Abacha, How to Spell Naija, and Diaries of a Dead African; also, because the poetry and stories I follow on his social media as well as blog but more still because of his profession as a lawyer.

 

Chuma’s dance with language is enviable. And this is not because of the sometimes very sophisticated words but the easier ones, how they arranged and make sense.

 

And perhaps it is this respect for and knowledge of and experience with -language- that informs this book.

 

It opens with the “Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights (Article 10.1) All language communities have equal rights” then a dedication to the less-equal half of the world’s 6000-odd languages, which will be extinct in another hundred years.

 

Clearly, Chuma has an almost spiritual relationship with language –  and what it means in terms of identity, culture, dignity for those speaking these languages. His is an exposition of the connections that language holds, not to just people but to histories.

 

However, enough of my fascination with the author’s fascination with language. Let’s talk about the book without trying to give away much.

 

The Menai are dying. They are running out of time. This is the idea we are brought to deal with as the book starts. How it plays out is the journey that Chuma expertly takes us on, him – an  omniscient narrator, giving us magnifying glass views as well birds’ eye views of the process of the extinction.

 

However, this is not a journalistic narration. The writer was akin to an angel taking one through visions, through pasts and futures, a back and forth giving context and reason and then painting a bigger picture. This was done exemplarily well through an expertly crafted cast of characters who seem thrown over different parts of the world but are connected by events that at first glance seem not at all connected.

 

A half-naked procession of mourners. Unexplained deaths. Failed coup attempts. A doctor and his wife’s designer drugs. A mock burial. An author’s messianic book deal go wrong and more…

 

The events are primarily set in Kreektown and Sontik State in Nigeria; however, the journeys take us to Scotland, England, Cote D’Ivoire, Sudan even China if not to prove a certain point about roots and connections.

 

In as much as the few chapters that detail the thoughts and experiences of Chief (Dr.) Ehi A. Fowaka give an introduction and thought about the Menai people and their perceived absurdity and strange customs but more generally a look down on cultures that are getting extinct- it is the chapters that have the stories of Zanda, Badu, Humphrey Chow, Tobi Rani, David Balsam, Amana, Penaka Lee, and Mata Nimito that give this story its heart and soul and take you on a journey of discovery of what the Extinction of Menai really means – why and how all language communities have equal rights.

 

There are love stories, international-level political plots, terrorist attempts, mystic occurrences, scientific explanations that all connect together in what seems the dying of the Menai.

 

It was masterful how Chuma took on top-level happenings while at the same time giving eye to individual, interpersonal happenings and exposing many of society’s inconsistencies, conflicts, sins while at it.

 

It is in questioning strong topics like sexism, corruption, greed, capitalism,  with great use of language.

 

“Women and children, always women and children! As if men that died there are donkeys!”

 

““Bastard! Were. Aje! You take one million US dollars and give me a hundred thousand naira!” I was angry myself, “What did you bring? Was it not ordinary photocopy form? Hundred thousand for a fifty naira paper, was that not enough?”

 

“‘Goodbye, Humphrey,’ and her voice was as cold as the kiss had been warm.”

 

“‘We’re burying a nation, David…Not just a man…’”

 

“After all, eyeswater is not for drinking.”

 

It is hard to tell after a while when reading the book whether this is fiction or a true story. You want to look up places and see whether they exist, companies like Trevi Biotics, IMX; names of famous people – Malcom Frisbee, Phil Begg,  because for a while inside Chuma’s tale, everything is alive, as big as it is small, as compelling as it is hard to believe. And moreso because he has overlapped worlds. More than overlap, it seems like a perfect amalgamation.

 

And when you do get to the end, you realise why Chuma goes to the lengths and depths. He is making a plea for language but not just language, cultures on the brink of extinction and he is also asking us how well we know who we are. He asks for introspection, asks for an inquiry into our religion, our sociology, our financial systems.

 

His main characters seem to be living on different sides of the world but are connected. We are as some would put it, living in a world of six degrees of separation.

 

It is written very much like an Ousmane Sembene God’s Bits of Wood book but with a wider plane of influence. It is a modern day epic that is intriguing as it is teaching. It’s epic scale is in no way confusing for those with the patience to follow through to the end, to the extinction of the Menai to wonder whether the race, the language, the customs, the wisdom, the songs, have come to an end or maybe could be saved.

 

On reaching the end of the book, and reconciling his first words, you realise you have just read one of Africa’s best writers. His ability to create the world that is “The Extinction of Menai” was ambitious because of the seeming scale but  Godmenai it was enjoyable and unforgettable.

 

Perhaps because of what language means to him, he went to the lengths of an epic to relay a message that a story can better tell than a declaration, and while declarations have their space, the story should awaken us to a deeper appreciation of our roots and identity as African regardless what shade we are. And that we are human no matter what language we speak.

 

An epic that doesn’t shy away from the cultural, spiritual, financial, political and sociological influences on people, this is my best read this year of our Lord, 2017.

 

P.s As a writer, there was a lot to take from the chapters that had Lynn Christie, Grace, Humphrey Chow, and Malcom Frisbee in terms of writing. Especially the Malcom Frisbee and Chow lunch. So much. Every writer, every emerging writer should read it.

This review, of Chuma Nwokolo’s The Extinction Of Menai, a 2017 publication, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Joel Benjamin Nevender.

You can order for a copy of the book by contacting us. We will be delighted to deliver to you wherever in the world that you are.

A Conspiracy Of Ravens – Othuke Ominiabohs.

Othuke Ominiabohs’s A Conspiracy Of Ravens.

The politics of Nigeria’s oil industry has always been as fascinating as it heartbreaking. The intrigue, corruption, and betrayal that is oft reported, to be afoot, in the media and elsewhere, is expertly articulated in Othuke’s ‘A conspiracy of Ravens’.

The book is written in a fast-paced and humorous way making it quite the joy to read. Also, Othuke is not afraid to slot in a ‘complicated’ word or two every so often throughout the story which lends a certain sophistication to the novel.

This is a book that will keep you glued to its pages until you either must absolutely put it down to attend to an emergency or you have finished reading it.

This review, of Othuke Ominiabohs’s A Conspiracy Of Ravens, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Lynn Gitu Turyatemba.

You can purchase a copy or more of the tile from our online bookshop by following this link A Conspiracy Of Ravens.

Questions For Ada – Ijeoma Umebinyuo

Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions For Ada.

Questions for Ada is a collection of poems, but, mostly, it reads like a manual for your healing.

 

Reading the book, it is obvious that Ijeoma Umebinyuo has the uncanny ability to weave magic from her pain and the pain of others. I first saw her poems in those inspirational quotes online, and so I followed her on Twitter. By the time I got a copy of the book, I was head over heels with her personality and her sass. The book, thankfully, did not disappoint.

 

She tackles femininity, masculinity, the lives of women, mental health, colonialism, identity, and so many other important issues in a way that is both brave and compassionate. Many poems are short and poignant, suited to be daily mantras. Others are long and elaborate, especially when she wants to tell a story. Her poems are reminiscent of folklore in some parts, reflecting her commitment to authenticity and preserving our culture.

 

I like to read fast, and then come back and linger over books this good. Yet, for this book, I had to read slowly, savoring it like a good meal.

 

As a woman, reading the poems in “Questions for Ada” was an especially spiritual experience. She chided me for shrinking myself, more than once. She reminded me of my beauty, my grace, my strength, my poise. She knows so intimately the demons that black girls fight: a painful lack of self-esteem, hurt and disappointment from abusive relationships, the pain of heartbreak, the fear of love, the lack of self-love. She is the big sister and the best friend: showing you she gets it, telling you how to get past it.

 

Yet, keeping with the (in) famous feminist cry “The personal is political”, she shows how politics affects individual lives with the way she critiques colonialism and institutionalized sexism. Reading the book, it is obvious that the author is committed to speaking out about all the things that would destroy us as she so aptly described in her TED talk. This is a book I will read until the pages are frayed. A true gem.

This review, of Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s Questions For Ada, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Ophelia Kemigisha.

You can order for copies of more of it from our online bookshop by following this link Questions For Ada.

 

Cassandra – Violet Barungi

The cover image for Violet Barungi’s Cassandra.

Set in the Kampala of the late 1980s, and the early 1990s, the story of Cassandra, a beautiful, opinionated, somewhat sensible young woman, is predictable.

Cassandra is entangled in a sort of love triangle with two brothers – one, a famed Casanova, and the other, a stoic and moody Darcy. She chooses the Casanova, Raymond, who is estranged from his wife, has a son but treats her like a queen. Bevis, Raymond’s brother, admires Cassandra from afar and secretly believes his brother does not deserve her at all. He is, however, too gentlemanly to make any moves on her now that she has chosen his brother.

As it turns out, Cassandra’s choice of the Casanova brother is not as favourable as she hoped as she deals with one incident of drama after another. By the time the novel closes, though, Bevis and Cassandra are together and Cassandra is at the top of her career game. It can, thus, be said that all’s well that ends well.

The novel’s author, Violet Barungi, is evidently talented, weaving her words together nicely to form the story. She, also, skillfully tackles the difficult issues of that time in Uganda including the AIDS scourge and civil war making her story relatable. However, she is let down by attempting to pursue multiple storylines that she has difficulty linking effectively to each other. The reader is, thus, left with the task of trying to keep track of which character is which and how they connect to which storyline.

This review, of Cassandra, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Lynn Gitu Turyatemba.

You can purchase the book from our online bookshop by following this link Cassandra.

Infinite Wonders – Poetry Potion.

The cover image for the anthology Infinite Wonders.

Almost all the poems in the collection, despite the varying ways they approach life, present to the reader that which is both ordinary and overwhelming; there two lives to a poem. The poem feels like it’s re-imagining itself through the subject it’s chosen to embody.  The poem moves like it’s diving in and out of the water, gaining a slipperiness that allows us to call it “a poem and another thing” after we’ve read it. This, however, does not affect how the poem is received. While reading it, we accept that it’s creating a route to another world right before our eyes, that we playing a part in its fate, that we’re not mere spectators of an unraveling.

 

In her poem, Give Me A Poem Please, Gameedah Riffel argues that a poem is not the final word. It’s also not a single person’s word but a work of collaboration, like in cloud computing. As one moves the cursor to its head, another is changing the original contents of the body. I think this means that the writer has to be ready to let their poem go into the world for good so that it can become (like) whatever it has found.

 

Give me a poem and I’ll the words for you

I’ll swap all the letters around while also twisting the truth.

What’s false will now be believed.

What’s wrong will now be true.

Give me a poem please and I’ll show you what I can do.

 

If we think of that scenario from the “while also twisting the truth” angle, then we start to doubt the authenticity of the final poem. Is the poet a representative of our opinions or theirs? If we give him/her a poem that already bears our truths, how much distortion is he allowed to do? And what’s there to applaud a poet for if all they do is edit an already existing idea?

The poets featured in this collection have managed to create poems that exist as worlds bordering the everyday landscape. The poems are like fences, and you can lean against them as you watch the goings-on of another place. They do not stop you from escaping. Their only role is being present. However, the imagery used by poets like Kylin Lotter, Soma Bose, Ulrike Kissing, Amlajyoti Goswami and Kabelo Mofokeng cuts. It cuts so deep you have to go back and read a poem again to heal. In Goswami’s poem “Star Gazing” for example, the simple act of watching a baby play becomes an inward journey to a world of unimaginable beauty and serenity. Babies represent what has escaped the grip of an adult and now they can only see it in a different body, a little version of themselves.

 

Babies are another universe,

Sovereigns of an unexplored galaxy.

A blink holds time still,

Like gods of another time,

Sitting on lotuses.

 

In another poem about gazing at the sky entitled The Aliens Soma Bose imagines the possibility of another world beyond the clouds. But what makes his fantasy an “infinite wonder” is that the morphology of its inhabitants is upon whoever is looking (“Inside it, there may be many looks like spider, /They may look like big bug or like any creature”. “…..maybe they are robot-like machine! / Maybe they are human-like or of divine doctrine!”).

 

The sky has been a thing to marvel at, from the earliest man to the present. We wonder what could possibly be up there, and if it has a direct influence on our lives. We wonder if there’s anything worth more than space. And for those who have watched SCI-FI films, the question of whether there exist aliens, more advanced in intellect and technology than we are, comes into play.

In some of the poems in the collection, celestial (life) is a major factor; from assumptions to how aliens look to something like “The stars were silver like the fake teeth of an early twentieth-century whore” in Ali Znaidi’s poem Celestial Illumination.

 

Of all the poets featured in this collection, I am most impressed with Kylin Lotter. The imagery used in writing her poems is meant to make her stand out. I love how it feels like she has no option but to become, to shed her skin as she falls from one line to the next, like one going through tree branches. The words make her vulnerable. The words make her honest. The same words that pushed her are waiting for her on the ground. There’s no time she’s not a captive:

 

“Armour”

Let me never be sheltered again.

Let me drown my naivety in my sin.

Let me breathe in the smoke of whim.

Let the flames lick my raw skeleton.

 

“You”

but I –

but you, are just a landscape of pale skin stretched over white bones.

I could spend my days skimming, drifting, with my fingertips

across the dry ice of your subtle flesh.

 

Whenever we let ourselves to get lost in fantasies about far-away lands, we fail to notice the tangible beauty in our midst, in our own lands. I like Welcome Moyo’s poem Eternal Wonders because it makes my point valid. What makes her wonders eternal is that they are “held in between melanin and bone.” The human being, we’re convinced, is to be here forever. His body form might change but he’ll still bear something in him that surpasses all the wonders we could imagine.

 

It’s an unwritten religion to search for infinite wonders outside of us

It’s an unspoken practice to look for eternal marvels in the pastures that lay afar

In fact, very few have told of the rolling riches that quietly reside within us,

 

She says.

 

But, what do you say yourself?

 …

This review, of Infinite Wonders, was written for Turn The Page Africa, by Raymond Lule.

You can order a copy or more of it from our online bookshop by following this link Infinite Wonders

Bare – Jackie Phamotse

Jackie Phamotse’s Bare.

At the beginning of this year, a twenty years year old socialite, Karabo Mokoena, was burnt to death by her boyfriend.

Bare documents what may have led to her demise and also to many other unnamed young ladies that are seduced by the flashy lives led by others on social media, with posts about expensive trips, clothes, fancy food and numerous lavish gifts seduce young girls into a life of being kept women for so-called ‘Ministers of Finance’ or #Blessers, or more commonly, known as sugar daddies.

In the book, the protagonist is told the words; “Relax; all you need is a Minister of Finance in your life, someone who will support your desires” by one of her friends, which is a sentiment we see echoed in many a young lady’s life.

Bare is a story of Treasure, a naïve dreamer who leaves her dysfunctional home and walks straight into the greedy heart of Johannesburg, a city disguised as one where dreams come true and she chases fame and a happy ending which is only shown to be an illusion.

But, building a life in a big city doesn’t come easy and Treasure watched the tall buildings, fancy cars and well-dressed men and women zoom past as they drove north through the city. She thought designer shoes, beautiful dresses, and weaves and asked how she can fulfill all that she desires when she hasn’t started working.

Treasure is taken advantage of by all the men around her for their own selfish needs and this has the effect of chirping away her self-confidence and esteem. Her father’s abuse of her mother and his power over their family, losing her virginity, being gang-raped at a club, and also being raped during model casting. All these tragedies lead her to literally sell her soul to a powerful man several decades her senior and married, one who gives her the lavish lifestyle she craves but he slowly owns her life by taking each piece of her soul.

The author, Jackie Phamotse, highlights why Treasure couldn’t resist money and the power it brought and the reason why she chose to stay in a toxic relationship and with a man that was not capable of loving her the way she needed.

While reading, I came to understand why the character made the decisions she did. I found that I could relate to a lot of what she was thinking.

I applaud Jackie Phamotse for writing a book that is socially relevant and sparks the conversation on what really goes on before and after that fly photo with the fabulous dress and the fancy food has been taken and posted for millions of followers to like and retweet.

This review, of Jackie Phamotse’s Bare, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Mable Amuron.

You can purchase copies of the title by following this link Bare.

 

Butterfly Dreams And Other Stories – Beatrice Lamwaka

Beatrice Lamwaka’s Butterfly Dreams And Other Stories.

This anthology is a wonderful and powerful contribution to Ugandan literature.

In these stories, Beatrice Lamwaka questions the internal politics of Uganda while also raising very pertinent issues like gender, PTSD, war, the struggle for education, addiction, bullying, and sexuality – which is considered a controversial topic in our country where homosexuality is illegal.

A few of the stories are about the atrocities endured by the Acholi people during the time the Lord’s Resistance Army was terrorizing the northern part Uganda.

The stories are written in different styles but in a way, one that can best be described as both prose and poetry, and in an honest tone which is most refreshing.

Each story stands on its own merit, providing a few surprises and cliff-hangers along the way.

The titular story, Butterfly Dreams, is a short yet powerful read about Lamunu, an abductee and former child soldier that was returned home after five years. Through the narrator, Lamunu’s sibling, we learn the plight of these child soldiers, the way the war alters life itself, the psychological torment the families of the abducted children go through and the swing from desperation to hope like a pendulum.

She expected you to say something. Something that would make her believe your spirit was in that body you carried around. We wanted to know whether your tipu had been buried with your voice. We had never been taught how to unbury a tipu. We only hoped that your real tipu was not six feet under. We wanted to see you alive again.

But even as she speaks on the horrors and the plight the Acholi children suffered, Lamwaka also shows that all is not doom and gloom. She recognizes that there can be, and there is life full of opportunities and hope after the end of the war as we see Lamunu eventually going back to school to fulfil her desire to become a doctor.

This particular story won a nomination for Beatrice Lamwaka for the prestigious 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.

I highly recommend this book, it is entertaining yes, but it also sparks conversation on a lot of issues that are otherwise swept under the rug.

This review, of Beatrice Lamwaka’s Butterflies And Other Stories, was written, for Turn The Page Africa, by Mable Amuron.

You can purchase copies of the book by following this link Butterflies And Other Stories