A Girl Is a Body of Water

Tin House. Sept. 2020. 560p. ISBN 9781951142049. $27.95. F
Set in 1970s Uganda, this bewitching coming-of-age novel introduces readers to a smart, feisty heroine, Kirabo Nnamiiro, and her complicated extended family. Though deeply loved by the grandparents who are raising her, Kirabo yearns for knowledge of the woman who abandoned her at birth. She consults Nsuuta, the village seer, who recognizes in Kirabo evidence of the local myth of the first women; fiercely independent, changeable, and powerful, like the water from which they came. An exceptional student, Kirabo moves to Kampala, where her father has agreed to finance her education. It is here, as an observer of her unhappy, powerless stepmother and under the influence of her self-sufficient, modern aunt Abi, that Kirabo will learn to unravel the complexity of her lineage and to navigate the rapidly changing world for women in a modern Uganda. Though the novel is rife with the everyday fact of disappointment and loss, the overall atmosphere is one of joyous, feminist abandon.
VERDICT A recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction and the Kwani Manuscript Project for her first novel, Kintu, UK-based Makumbi is a mesmerizing storyteller, slowly pulling readers in with a captivating cast of multifaceted characters and a soupçon of magical realism guaranteed to appeal to fans of Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.
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