Set in the last tumultuous year of Idi Amin’s reign, this novel, the African author’s first to be published in the U.S., focuses on how the chaos of war affects a small Ugandan village.
The author’s microcosmic view of war allows her to concentrate on a small number of characters, primarily a family she develops across three generations. Kyomuhendo shrewdly chooses as her narrator Alinda, a 12-year-old girl whose vision is fresh and relatively innocent. She registers with both bewilderment and fear the events surrounding the villagers: Amin’s soldiers passing through the countryside in a riot of murder and rape; her father’s reckless courage in his willingness to protect his family against soldiers’ rifles with only a spear; her older brother Tendo’s withdrawal from family chores as he weighs the opportunity to join liberation forces; her best friend Jungu’s personal loyalty but eventual attraction to a young liberation soldier. Against this landscape of rapine and terror, the family must deal with the personal trials of family and village life. Alinda’s mother is about to give birth and no longer has the strength to hide out on the edge of the banana plantation to escape marauding soldiers, while Kaaka (“grandmother”) passes on some of her traditional wisdom but unwisely challenges some of Amin’s soldiers with her sharp tongue. The author’s matter-of-fact style is perfectly suited to Alinda’s naïve simplicity, in sharp counterpoint to the horrors on the edge of the narrative. The end brings a measure of guarded hope, as Alinda shares her joy: “the warm morning sun caressed our faces and bare arms. Blossoming trees lined the roadside, and the scents of yellow hibiscus and white violets filled the air.”
A novel of hope and horror, in equal measure.