In Ahimbisibwe’s debut novel, two children from rural, post-independence Uganda pursue education but end up following very different paths.
In an unspecified year in the past, young cousins Zuri and Maanzi live in the village of Hima, where they’ve been best friends since childhood. When a new government opens new schools, both children attend and are eager to learn, but they soon face challenges from harsh teachers. Maanzi’s family is also far more supportive of education than Zuri’s is. He goes to stay with a relative, Uncle Jay, who’s also one of his teachers; Zuri, who dreams of becoming a teacher, stays in Hima, and she’s frequently kept home from school to help her mother. Over the years, Maanzi scrapes by, getting top grades and finally making it into medical school, but Zuri ends up pregnant by a corrupt teacher who demands a high price for helping with her studies. The cousins remain close, but their paths diverge in adulthood; Zuri ends up in an abusive marriage, and Maanzi promises to help her daughter reach the goals that Zuri was unable to achieve. Overall, this novel’s uneven prose would have benefited from a stronger copy edit: “And a few more children, started to sell pancakes in the market. It still remained a job for the poor of the villagers even then.” That said, Ahimbisibwe does vividly depict rural Uganda in a way that will intrigue audiences that may be unfamiliar with it, and he does so without exaggerating his characters’ deprivations. Although the book carries a strong message regarding women’s rights, it’s not overly didactic, and it delivers an engaging story of how friends can maintain a connection despite life’s challenges.
An often compelling novel of poverty, hardship, and the promise of education.