Jennifer book Kintu

The novel begins in a Ugandan marketplace with the lynching of a man (Kintu Kamu) mistaken for a thief. As three market sellers later mull over the man’s bad fortune, one of them mentions ‘the curse’ from the days of Kintu in the 18th century. 3 months after the lynching, his killers are all found dead, strewn all over the streets.

According to a creation myth, Kintu was the first human on earth. Jennifer, however, offers a spin to the tale by portraying Kintu Kidda as a powerful governor who’s on a journey to pay homage to the new king. Tragedy befalls him on the way as his adopted son dies by Kintu’s hand, sparking a curse that haunts his family for generations.

The curse manifests itself as a mental breakdown due to his son’s death. Later in the 21st century Miisi, one of Kintu’s descendants, inherits the same mental illness. The story of Kintu though true at the beginning, has been retold to so many generations such that current generations only see it as a myth. Yet the reality of mental issues that have plagued Kintu’s descendants remains.

The book delivers engaging insights into periods in Uganda’s history through dynamic characters with their own riveting personal stories. Makumbi tells the Ugandan story while Subverting Ugandans’ understanding of who they are as a people. She dismantles popular opinions on mental illness, religion and gender. She also addresses the repercussions of patriarchy on African men without placing the blame on women.

Kintu has been acclaimed as ‘the great Ugandan novel’, and deservedly so. It steers clear of the colonial period that’s favoured by many a historical African novel. That is more than likely the reason why British publishers rejected it. It was published in Kenya four years ago, where Jennifer won the Kwani? Manuscript Project Award for the book. This year, she clinched the $165,000 Windham Campbell Prize for the same novel.


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