Baingana’s linked stories parse the destinies of three sisters in post–Idi Amin Uganda.
This debut collection, about a middle-class family’s decline, mirrors the dislocation wrought by an unstable economy after the collapse of Idi Amin’s chaotic regime. In “Green Stones,” youngest sister Christine investigates her parents’ boudoir, unearthing clues to her father’s alcoholism and infidelity, and her mother’s self-deception. “Hunger” is the preoccupation of sister Patti, sent to Gayaza, a government boarding school whose only well-nourished students are those whose parents can afford to supplement the starvation rations impoverished Patti must subsist on. “First Kiss,” the weakest story, ostensibly about Christine’s first date, meanders into reminiscences about her grade school, site of the date, where Christine and readers are stood up. Gayaza, attended by sister Rosa, is the setting for “Passion.” After an exposition-laden start, Rosa conducts a juju experiment on a male teacher in mid-discussion about King Lear, and the result is an unsettling epiphany for both. “Thank You Note” is Rosa’s harrowing letter to a lover who has given her AIDS. The trajectory of contagion among fun-loving university students ends in the horror of seeing the disease lay waste to her former schoolmates and herself. In the title story, Christine has a wan affair with a wealthy white tropical-fish exporter who’s predictably blasé about her abortion. By the pat, overdetermined end, she’s squeezed with her countrywomen into a bus, heading into “[t]he glaring sun.” “Lost in Los Angeles” finds Christine in that city, looking back on her Ugandan home through the rueful eyes of an emigrant taken in by shopping and California New Agey–ness. In “Questions of Home,” Christine returns to Entebbe, where she declares an uneasy truce with her Africanness. Christine gets the lion’s share of the attention here; the voices of her three siblings sound identical.
Like Christine’s family, these stories suffer from excessive gentility and emotional reticence.