The New York Times on Kintu

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“Curses are versatile fictions.” Writing for The New York Times, Julian Lucas discusses Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu in a thoughtful essay on the use of curse narratives in recent African literature :

Ancestral curses often “explain” a group’s essential character. But a 2017 novel by the Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi inverts that conceit: What if a curse expressed all the ways that families, cities and nations fail to cohere? This is the question posed by KINTU (Transit Books, paper, $16.95), a sweeping portrait of Ugandan history that begins with the fall of a powerful clan in the 18th century and follows the family’s line through the 21st. The novel, like Genesis, is an origin story; it takes its title from the name of Buganda mythology’s “first man.”

Makumbi’s original sinner is the nobleman Kintu Kidda, a beleaguered patriarch consumed by his diplomatic, military and conjugal responsibilities. He serves a bloodthirsty monarch and governs a recently conquered borderland, which he tours in a never-ending circuit of visits to his auxiliary wives. (Makumbi has called the novel “masculinist”; among its great strengths is her attention to the performative burdens patriarchy imposes on men.) Kintu often feels like “a seed dispenser … a slave to procreation and to the kingdom,” but at home, his problems are worse than sexual overcommitment. Married to estranged twins — he loves one; tradition makes the other obligatory — he struggles to command a family that simmers with resentments, rivalries, deceptions and internal contradictions.

Other titles discussed include Wayétu Moore’s She Would Be King, Léonora Miano’s Season of the Shadow, and Scholastique Mukasonga’s Barefoot Woman.