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.