cover image A Girl is a Body of Water

A Girl is a Body of Water

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Tin House, $27.95 (560p) ISBN 978-1-951142-04-9

Makumbi’s arresting bildungsroman (after Kintu) centers on a Ugandan woman growing up in the 1970s as she searches for answers about her mother. As a child, Kirabo lives in rural Nattetta with her paternal grandparents and is occasionally visited by her father, Tom, a successful businessman in Kampala. Though Kirabo is well-loved, she longs to know more about the mother who abandoned her as a baby. When Kirabo is 12, Nsuuta, the local witch and her grandfather’s lover, claims that Kirabo embodies “original state”: the vigor and strength all women possessed before these qualities were destroyed by culture and traditions. Nsuuta also advises Kirabo to avoid looking for her mother, in order to spare her the inevitable rejection from acknowledging a child born outside marriage. When her meetings with Nsuuta are discovered, Kirabo’s grandmother sends her to Kampala, but Tom’s wife refuses to raise another woman’s child, leading Tom to send her to a girls’ boarding school where she thrives intellectually, suffers from loneliness, and falls in love. Kirabo, a strong, empathetic protagonist, reveals a society where women are routinely pitted against one another or silenced. This beautifully rendered saga is a riveting deconstruction of social perceptions of women’s abilities and roles. (Sept.)