Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi review – is this 'the great Ugandan novel'?

Photo of Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi review – is this 'the great Ugandan novel'?
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From a Commonwealth short story prizewinner comes a masterful epic that examines Uganda’s history through generations of a cursed family

This Ugandan debut novel begins in 2004 with the death of a man who is killed by a mob after being mistaken for a thief. As three market sellers speculate about his bad fortune, one mentions “the curse”. We are then taken back to the 18th century and the eponymous Kintu. His name echoes the creation myth in which Kintu is the first person on Earth, but in Makumbi’s hands he is just a man: a powerful governor burdened with more wives than he would like, on a journey to pay homage to the new king. Tragedy strikes and Kintu’s son dies by Kintu’s own hand, an act that haunts his family down the generations.

The winner of the 2014 Commonwealth short story prize, Makumbi has here written a multi-generational epic that is equal parts imagination and research. The details of the 18th-century royal Buganda court are finely drawn, and full of detail and intrigue.

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