Kintu is a novel by Ugandan author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. First published by Kwani Trust, Nairobi Kenya in 2014 after winning The Kwani Manuscript Project in 2013 then published by Transit Books in 2017; then in March 2018 awarded (alongside seven others) for the Windham-Campbell Prize for how Kintu: “opens up a bold and innovatory vista in African letters, encompassing ancient wounds that disquiet the present, and offering the restitution to be found in memory and ritual”
“This prize for me is like having been working without pay for a long time and then someone comes a long and says, ‘Will a salary for the past ten years do?‘ Then you’re left speechless.”
~JENNIFER NANSUBUGA MAKUMBI
The name Kintu (pronounced with a soft ch sound as in chin; ChinTu) might come from the legend of the first man to walk in Buganda just like Adam in the garden of Eden yet it passes down to the fictional central character in the book, Kintu and lives on in various forms, as we follow several generations of his progeny from precolonial times to the modern day.
Kintu is a fictional novel but the history, culture and traditions portrayed are as real as any tale a grandparent has told, around a warm fire in the cold night; tales of our ancestry, tales never forgotten, because to forget is to lose your roots…..
The book is unapologetically Ugandan, written in context for Uganda and reading it one gets offered, a rare perspective, of how the past, becomes the present, real and imagined.
If you are not Ugandan, this is book won’t be an easy read. There are phrases whose meaning you won’t quite understand, you will get names wrong and trying to navigate this epic multi-character African story; where siblings can be cousins and parents not parents; through several generations of lineage, in which some of the same names keep coming back and others have more than one name….. (I would suspect even if you are Ugandan keeping track of the storyline) is quite a chore but in the end, it’s a worthwhile journey, you finish the book with a rich understanding of Uganda and by extension Africa’s complicated journey.
Reading this book reminded me somewhat of reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell the way souls are linked across time and space.
Though Jennifer Makumbi says her book is not a feminist work, her book delves into aspects of patriarchy and paternity; showing up its fragility, illusion of control, and the roles society imprisons itself.
The book also explores mental health, characters battle depression, schizophrenia, and psychosis. If mental health problems were caused by the supernatural, then in this book mental illness seems to travel along Kintu’s kin like its a blood curse…..
…badly wired, short-circuited, fuse-blowing mental kind of madness….
Kintu is a story about how far you will go to find your roots and sometimes your roots find you no matter where you travel.
From the Kintu Introduction by Aaron Brady:
…History as it’s written down in books is one thing, but history as it’s lived is another.
how the past recedes into the background as we race irrevocably forward….
This is Kintu: the story of how the old pasts are forgotten so that new pasts, new families, and new nations can be remembered into existence…..
Kintu was written, then, for people for whom the name Kintu means something. Now you are one of those people.
Good travels. Kulika o Lwera.
PhotoCredit: Brittle Paper