What the title said.
The Justice is a novel by Ghanaian author, Boakyewaa Glover. It’s marketed as a “political thriller” as indicated on the cover, but I’d probably call it a political romantic suspense-drama. But that’s a lot, so let’s just go with what the cover says, LOL.
For me, it was one of those books that looked intimidatingly large at first, made me think it might be boring and difficult to trudge through, but ended up being an exhilarating read that made me feel like I was effortlessly drinking up the words. It was a wild ride. I remember excitedly ranting to my best friend about it nearly from beginning to end.
Most events occur around the attempts of a man called Joseph Annan (also known as “The Justice”) to rise to the position of presidency in Ghana. The Justice, however, isn’t quite the main character. In fact, I’d be hard-pressed to narrow “main character” down to a single person. I feel like s/he changes throughout the different sections of the book.
When I first started reading it, I thought it would make a great Ghanaian movie. It worked perfectly. The premise—a man trying to become president while his daughter does scandalous things, his wife is ill and unstable, and the opposition is being, well, oppositional—was such a good one, and Glover set the stage up excellently. Besides, the way we like politics in our Ghana dier, I could already see this movie’s publicity taking off if handled well.
But then as I continued reading, the number of plot twists grew wildly, the twists themselves were increasingly mind-blowing, and the stakes kept rising relentlessly. It reached a point where immediately starting another chapter after I’d finished one began to feel exactly like binge-watching a suspenseful Netflix show, just skipping credits and moving on to the next episode. The end of each chapter had me so impatient to find out what would happen in the next one, and I could so clearly see this becoming an excellent TV show!
I’ve thought about a The Justice TV show almost every day since I finished the book. The novel itself is so underrated and underpublicized! I wouldn’t have known it existed if it hadn’t been lent to me by a friend (shout-out to TrueCoaster!), yet it’s easily one of the littest Ghanaian books I have ever read.
I have only two particularly critical things to say about it: firstly, that final plot twist just seemed a bit over the top. Everything else could fly—but that final one just had me going, “Wei dier, wo boa.” The other thing is about the characters’ speech. Every character spoke in standard English, no matter their background, the social context, their names, whatever. This is probably not something I’d have complained about if I’d read this book a few years ago, before I started being really conscious about such things. I, too, have written many things where the words coming out of characters’ mouths could just as easily have come out of the mouths of generic wyt characters. Basically, the characters’ speech didn’t have enough character. No pidgin, Twinglish, Ewe, etc., so that’s one thing I’ll advocate for the screenwriter of The Justice TV show (yes, I’m speaking about it like I already know it’s going to happen) to take into account when adapting the novel.
I have so much hope in this series, faith in its potential to be a smash hit and revival of Ghanaian television. No series has made sense to me since Home Sweet Home, to be very honest. And, if done right, I can’t see why The Justice won’t work. If we adapt this novel, we shouldn’t have much to worry about, with regards to the story being wack, because it’s already not. If someone has the resources to make something as visually stunning as An African City, I don’t see why The Justice can’t be just as good quality-wise. Maybe acting and accents could be problematic, but again, I’ll say, if the scripts are written correctly, dialogues should sound so natural and colloquially Ghanaian that it would make it at least extremely difficult, if not impossible, for actors to deliver them unnaturally. Also, if Ghanaians are consistently hooked on suspenseful dramas, from Game of Thrones to Stranger Things to How to Get Away with Murder etc., I honestly can’t see why The Justice should fail to appeal to the same audience. What I’m saying is: This series go beeeee!
I beg, a human being who has loads of money should get in contact with Boakyewaa Glover as soon as possible, find a sensible screenwriter and set this process in motion, please and thank you. (I really beg.)
Just in case you’re thinking of volunteering me as screenwriter, let me just make it clear that I don’t have the faintest clue how to screen-write. (Okay, that’s not entirely true. But the very faintest is the best I’ve got. Which is not to say that if you offer me tons of money, I’ll refuse to learn, don’t get it twisted.)
Also, read the book, because, you know, it’s lit!
–Akotz the Spider Kid
The conclusion I arrive at may seem obvious to you when you read it. Or, depending on who you are, it might seem crazy unrealistic. In response to the former, I will say that I still think that the thought process by which I arrived at the conclusion, is worthy of documentation. In response to the latter: I think you ought to fight with somebody who isn’t trying to make a career out of imagination, and who doesn’t believe that imagination is the foundation of the future.
A couple of weeks ago, I had a series of thoughts that turned into something of a short-lived crisis. The crisis had two triggering moments. Firstly, I got into a heated argument about education in my African history class, and I remember vehemently reiterating that I would rather not have felt like I had to come all the way to This Country for college, just to get what I wanted out of higher education. Secondly, there was a discussion in my Africana Research Methods class, where students were asked what percentage of a black population would constitute, for them an ideal demographic at our PWI college community. (And yes, I know that the question is inherently paradoxical. I didn’t come up with it, so don’t ask me why we were discussing it.) These events, I think, occurred on the same day, and my reflections upon them landed me, quite suddenly, at the conclusion that I am a fraud.
First, I will walk you through how I got to recognize my fraudulence, and then, how I disabused myself of it very quickly.
I am in my second year of college, as an Africana Studies major with a disciplinary focus in history. And, as much as I can help it, I am fulfilling all my history requirements with continentally African history courses. (Context: because of that extra “a” at the end of Africana, my history requirements could alternatively be fulfilled with African-American, Caribbean, or any kind of Black history. But I’m intentionally choosing continentally African.) Now, when I first took an African history course in my first semester of college, I experienced, throughout the span of the course, a vast range of strong emotions. Much of it was excitement, intrigue and enthusiasm. Some of it, however, was irritation. Not at the content itself (that was to come later, in the history class I’m currently taking. Lord, I could rant about this one all day), but at the fact that I was now learning the most I had ever learnt in detail about my home continent, after I had left it.
But there was another texture of emotions. I could describe them at best approximately as relief and gratitude. This was all for the fact that I was being taught history by an African man. By a 100% Bibini, West African man. I realized then that I would always, always want African history to be taught pretty much strictly by continental Africans, no matter where they are offered.
Two semesters later, when this professor went on leave, it finally hit me that he was, in fact, the only 100% Bibini African professor in the entire college consortium, bonus points for having been born on the continent and lived there his entire childhood. (The adulthood spent in France is where things start going wrong, but this story is for another day.)
While he was on leave, the class he offered, the one that had been a major factor in changing my whole college trajectory, was not offered, because he was the only one who could teach it, and he wasn’t there. None of the freshmen, therefore, had the opportunity to take any African history courses that semester, and it’s worth noting that their class contained the largest ever number of continental African admitted students. Issa tragedy. (By the way, this course had been taught before the professor’s arrival, thankfully by Black folks, just not by a continental Africans.) This is where I started asking myself why there was only one 100% Bibini continental African professor in the entire consortium. And I truly believed it would be the coolest thing if there were more. I can’t believe I believed that. What a fraud!
I think it was exactly during the aforementioned conversation of “what would your ideal Black demographic look like?” that I deeped the extent of my fraudulence. I’m fairly certain other people in the class started calculating how many more African-Americans they wanted to see, but that’s not how my mind immediately interprets “Black”. Of course, I was thinking of people like myself, continental Africans, faculty and students alike. In the middle of my calculations, I thought to myself, “And why in heaven’s name, Akotz, are you so happily speculating upon increasing the continental African demographic in, of all places, This Country? You dey craze? You that you’re annoyed that a person like you has had to travel all the way here to study African history, you want to give people like yourself more reason to have to leave the continent? W’abɔdam? SMH. Fraud.”
Allow me to clarify the conflicting sides of the dilemma: on one hand, I wanted more African content accessible to African kids and made available to them at the very least by African faculty; on the other hand, I did not want any more brain drain of my beloved content. I mean, we’ve had way more than enough brain drain since centuries before 1833 – and we’re in twenty-freakin’-eighteen!
(Just because I know by experience how people’s brains work on this internet distin, let me just say this: only a fool would think I just implied that there are no – or even few – smart Africans left on the continent, either in or out of school. If you think this is what I’m saying, your thinking is wack, and I invite you to critically examine it before you start insulting me in your group chats and DMs, na m’abrɛ mo.)
But, at the same time, you can see that this is not a dilemma at all.
I started thinking about the surprisingly large list of people I know (note that most people I know are continental Africans) who have intentions of entering academia. I thought to myself, “In which country are you planning to obtain this PhD? And in which country will you get employed to use it?”
The reason my dilemma lasted only “two seconds” was that I nearly instantly knew what my ideal was: I want the absolute and best places, efficient, informative, affordable systems for African education, to be on the continent. I want a world where it is absolutely uncontestable that for anyone of any ethnicity whatsoever, the most sensible place to engage Africa, academically or otherwise, is on the continent. (The best place to engage African diaspora history, in my ideal, should be necessarily equivalent in all the places folks of African descent are situated. So like, if you want to study Caribbean history, you ought to know that if you’re not on a Caribbean island, you’re not getting the best version of what you could have had.) I’m very much over my Afro-Francophone beloveds consistently flying over to That Country for education, and my Afro-Anglophone babes trooping to This One and the Other One.
And even more than those dreams, I want a world where it is common knowledge that the best places for Africans to be educated – formally or informally, within or without academia, in any and all disciplines – is on the continent. So much so that Africans will use the same energy that they currently use to talk about black kids getting into Harvard, use the very same energy in future to question what exactly people need Harvard for, when what’s on the continent is several, several times better.
So yeah. My answer to the “What’s the ideal black demographic in this college community?” question, for me, is deadass zero.
That is all. (For now.) Spider Kid out!
(By the way, have you read If I Could Kill My Feelings? The school Mario and Violet went to, the Kuukua Annan Institute, was un/consciously born from these ideas. ((In the background of my mind, a voice yells, “MIT? Never been diagnosed with that disease.”)) And if you’ve read some On the Ceiling stories, you might guess why a mechanics & technology school would be named after Kuukua Annan.)
Awakening is a journey that has taught me to interrogate my conscience, and why I feel inclined to apologize for everything I am and anything I feel.
Sometimes, I carry myself like a black hole whose center resides where my heart should be, and my darkness stretches like shadows across the room. I speak to people who recoil at being addressed in a voice infused with power, by a woman without even the courtesy to fake a smile.
Once, my lips would have softened from guilt for their sake, and I would have burnt as much fuel as it took to generate yet another pleasant mask for their comfort. These days, instead, my eyes glow like burning coals and lock on theirs in a challenge that translates to “Try me.” I imagine they are grateful for my frames, like these are the only things stopping the rocks from leaping out to sear them.
I am slowly learning how to feel fully clothed when I am not wearing apology as a second skin, to continue being many things the world has told me I am not allowed to be.
There are matters I have ceased to question. Like how neither of us really requires an explanation for my anger, or my joy, or my emotions being in a state of transition where nothing I feel can be accurately defined. Like my freedom to be vocal, or silent, and silent about my choice to be silent; to roll up the window between myself and the rest of the world’s sense of entitlement to having an answer for every “why”. Like how none of these things are causes to be sorry.
I am learning that I must save my apologies for when I am repentant.
Edem had breached her agreement. She was now suffering the consequences, paying her penalties through nausea, sweat and convulsions. She had already spent several hours going back and forth between her bed and her trash can, dry-heaving over the latter for minutes at a time. She felt like she was going to die.
Whatever was wrong with her was not a job for a physician, especially not an American one. The diagnosis was certain to be incorrect, her symptoms erroneously summarized as a reaction to an as-yet-unidentified allergen. There was no medicine that could intervene on Edem’s behalf. This kind of sickness could only be endured, not cured. So she waited, entertaining no anger and succumbing to the exhaustion. She would bear the cross, for she had brought it upon herself.
In the part of her brain that was still capable of rational thought, she calculated that she had perhaps twenty minutes more of this torture to sit through. She wished she would pass out and wake up an hour later, when there was nothing left to suffer but the residual ache of her diaphragm – but unconsciousness was not one of the mercies available to those in her strain of practice.
Yet, for all the pain and suffering, did she regret a single thing she had done?
Without a doubt, absolutely, certainly, not.
The bathroom didn’t look any different than usual. The toiletries haphazardly packed into the cubicles were perpetually threatening to avalanche. The half-drawn shower curtain afforded a glimpse of the shower’s floor tiles, upon which clumps of brown and blond hair were scattered. The puddles of water around the sink basins, contaminated with strands of hair, toothpaste and only-God-knew-what-else, were in the process of congealing into discolored masses of goo.
You had to love gender-neutral, communal bathrooms.
The tidiness of the bathroom had never been a prevalent issue in Paul’s mind. Whatever his purpose in there, the only thing that ever side-tracked him for a second was the mirror. He had an instinctive ritual of stopping and staring for a few seconds at his reflection whenever he came in, briefly absorbing his green eyes and curly, light-brown hair before carrying on with his business.
The image of his own face lingered in Paul’s mind as he walked into a toilet stall and neglected to close the door. Thus, it escaped his notice when the click of the lock sliding into place sounded anyway. With the automatic familiarity of a boy who had been executing the same motions quite literally since he was potty-trained, he unzipped his fly, pulled out his dick, and the steady spray of yellow-orange liquid began.
“Penis detected. Activating automatic male urination sequence.”
The deep, female voice startled Paul to his core. He jerked so violently that he lost hold of his penis before he had the chance to consciously pause the spraying. The stream of urine deviated from its graceful, arched course and splattered onto the toilet seat, in the very same moment that the seat itself instantaneously lifted without being touched, completely confusing the urine’s trajectory. Before Paul knew it, he’d been splashed on his face, arms and clothes. The stall’s walls and door hadn’t escaped the shower either.
“Eugh!” he yelled.
“Targeted urine stream no longer detected. Automatic male urination sequence paused,” said the voice. It seemed to be coming from all around the bathroom at once, vibrating in the very walls, floors and ceilings.
With his penis still dangling outside his shorts, Paul spun in every direction, searching for a speaker or hologram or something – any telltale signs of the source of either speech or telekinesis.
He confirmed, to his terror, that he was completely alone. Immediately, his skin transformed into gooseflesh and his mind went static. He grabbed the stall door and yanked it. It rattled in response but didn’t open. He gave the lock a rough jerk, but it remained fixed in place no matter how frantically he pulled and shoved.
“Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Panicking harder, Paul continued to jiggle the hopelessly locked door.
“Exit denied. Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Near tears, Paul gave up on the door and exhaled. He leaned his back against it, having forgotten that it too held droplets of his urine, which the back of his head and shirt were now soaking in. Despairing, he closed his eyes. His breaths had become quick and shallow. For several minutes, he was entirely at a loss for what to do, or how to even begin understanding what was happening.
“Sanitation levels insufficient. Kindly sanitize and try again.”
Instantly, his fear of the disembodied voice with the weird African accent was completely replaced by fury and frustration. He pounded on the door behind him with his fists as he bellowed, “The fuck am I supposed to ‘sanitize’ with, bitch?”
In the most infuriatingly calm and levelled tone, the voice responded: “Processing inquiry.” Then, after a beat, “The user will find disinfectant wipes on the floor, to the right of the toilet.”
Paul was initially so startled by the fact that he’d received a response at all, that he was unable to process its content.
It took a few more minutes for him to let go of the notion that this was merely a dream. He really was locked in a toilet stall, listening to an African Robot Ghost Woman trying to tell him what to do. This realization stunned him all over again, so that for even longer, he could only stand still and process.
Finally, when he made mental progress, he thought to himself: The ghost girl said there were wipes at the…
He looked down and, to his intense surprise, found a packet of disinfectant wipes exactly where the Robot Ghost Woman said they’d be. He could have sworn those hadn’t always been in here. (Not that he’d ever tried to find any before.)
With the sluggishness of a creature unexpectedly caught in viscous liquid, he bent down to grab a handful, lowered the toilet seat, and began to clean. When he was done, he dropped the used wipes into the toilet, then gingerly stepped back and waited. Nothing unexpected happened. He reached out and barely brushed the flush handle with his index, quickly snatching it away as though electrically shocked. Still, no unexpected phenomena. Finally judging it a safe action, Paul placed his palm on the handle with a little more confidence, and applied pressure. The urine and the wipe disappeared with a wholesome swoosh.
Without prompt, the lock slider slowly grated to the left with the squeak of metal-on-metal, and the door swung open. Paul whirled and bolted like the devil herself was after him. Fast as he ran, though, the bathroom door didn’t shut soon enough for him to miss hearing the voice say, “Initiating thorough self-sanitation sequence…”
It would be a while before Paul recovered enough to realize he’d run off with his fly still unzipped and his penis still hanging out of his shorts.
Ryan was going to be late. Again. He knew it the moment he set his ass down to take a shit, fifteen minutes before his class was supposed to begin, in a building as far away from his dorm as it was physically possible to get, within campus limits. If he left this very second and ran, he’d probably just be able to make it. After all, it wasn’t a huge college. The problem was, of course, his desperate need to poop.
Ryan was a dumbass, and he knew it. How many times had Alison told him last night not to eat the spicy Indian food? How many times had she told him he’d be better off with some slices of pepperoni pizza or a bowl of Caesar salad? But noooo, he’d wanted the rice with the sauces whose names he couldn’t even pronounce, and the samosas which, after every bite, he’d had to chug cold water to keep from exploding into grains of White pepper. Instead of heeding Ali’s wisdom, he’d decided to be an idiot instead. Now, the universe was teaching him a lesson.
There were long periods of silence. Then sudden bursts of splrrrbrrrsplaplapsplrrr, like somebody was emptying thick marinara sauce very loudly down a sink. Ryan didn’t even want to look at the half-liquid mess of badly-processed excrement coming out of him right now. He just wanted all this to be over with, so he could go to class. His GPA was at stake.
Ryan was a pretty good student, but his tardiness was very rapidly working against him – not to mention his case wasn’t being helped in the least by the glares Ms. Martinez gave him every time he walked into the room in the middle of her sentences. If there was one thing Ms. Martinez detested, it was interruption.
Ten minutes had passed now, and that was enough time for Ryan’s nose to have grown used to the pungency. A few minutes later, finally, it was over.
He wiped his ass and rose, and then, carefully avoiding examination of the toilet bowl’s contents, he flushed in one swift, fluid motion. He turned to leave, but the door’s lock refused to budge.
Goddamn it! It was literally the worst possible time to get accidentally locked in a fucking bathroom! Imagine having to text an RA to come bail you out from the toilet. And if there had ever been a chance of redemption with Ms. Martinez, he’d sure as hell blown—
“Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
Holy fucking shit. Where had that come from?
For a second, he thought he was hallucinating. It wouldn’t be an unusual occurrence for him, and admittedly, he’d gotten slightly high last night. But his hallucinations never carried on until the morning after. And he’d bet his ass that even his subconscious wouldn’t know how to conjure up such a thick African accent. Nah, he couldn’t be tripping.
Ryan continued jimmying the lock, thinking maybe he unintentionally fumbled the first time. The door stayed shut, the lock remained immobile.
“Exit denied. Flush state unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
What? What was the mechanical voice saying? And where the hell was it coming from? Ryan looked around and found signs of neither person nor machine.
It suddenly occurred to him that this was a scene straight out of a spy film, and he was a suspect of some sort of heinous crime. Some intelligence company had clearly been monitoring his every move with surveillance equipment and was now trying to intimidate him into confessing. It was the thought of someone sitting behind a desk, watching him shit, that provoked his hysteria.
“Oh my God, get me out of here! Fucking CIA! I swear it wasn’t me! I didn’t do anything! Get me out of here!” he screamed.
He hadn’t truly expected an answer, so he was partially sobered when he heard the disembodied voice respond, “Processing request…” Then, a moment later, “Request denied. Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
“Argh!” Ryan yelled. What was she even on about?
He ran his hands over his face, and tangled his fingers in his long, messy, blond hair. His eyes rolled up into his head, his natural response whenever he felt like he was losing his mind.
“Flush levels unsatisfactory. Kindly flush again.”
His eyelids snapped open, and his gaze settled on the contents of the toilet. He had flushed his excrement, but thanks to the sheer amount of initial shit and its weird solid-liquid state, even after the first flush, several tiny pieces of poop had resurfaced and were now floating about in the bowl, and the toilet water had turned a sickly yellow-brown. He was disgusted by the sight.
I could have gone my whole week without having to know what that looked like, he thought to himself. He inhaled and exhaled deeply as the stupid spy machine’s voice reminded him, “Kindly flush again.”
“Okay, okay! I heard you the first five hundred fucking times! I’m flushing, God!”
He yanked the handle again, and the loud sucking mechanisms drained the toilet bowl of its contents. This time, the water that refilled the bowl was clear, and stayed that way. When the toilet once again fell silent, the voice returned.
“Flush levels sufficient. Exit granted.”
Behind Ryan, the locked door opened itself up, granting unhindered passage out of the bathroom.
As fast as he could, Ryan sprinted to class, trying to avoid admitting to himself that there was zero hope of salvation with Ms. Martinez now.
Someone was knocking on Liam’s door at one a.m. It was a good thing for them that Liam never slept early. He had been in the middle of resolving the bugs in his latest programming assignment when he got up to find out who could possibly be visiting past midnight, and wondering if he’d have to call an ambulance.
“Paul?” Liam asked, astonished. “What are you doing here? Don’t you, like, crash by ten every night?”
His friend seemed distraught and his face was filled with some other disturbing emotion that Liam was having a hard time defining.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Paul panted. “But hey, I have to ask you a favor. Can I, like, use your bathroom?”
“Use my bathroom?”
“Yeah. It’s, um, kind of urgent.”
Liam had one of the most coveted dorm rooms on campus – unsurprising, since he was an RA. Not only was it a single, but it also had its own unique bathroom, something Liam’s friends were wildly envious of.
“Bro, did you seriously just get up after midnight, walk past the bathroom in your hall, ignore literally every other bathroom in your dorm, cross the street to get to my dorm, and come all the way to the fourth floor, to use my fucking bathroom?”
“Listen, Liam, it’s complicated. Just, please, can I use your bathroom?” Paul looked like he was on the verge of a breakdown.
“Okay, whatever, weirdo. Sheesh.”
Liam stepped aside, and Paul rushed in.
Well if he needed to go that bad, why’d he come all the way here, Liam thought to himself.
Right before Liam shut the door, a black girl with an Afro and a curious mark on her cheek passed by on her way to the elevator, clutching a stack of folders. Liam recognized her. She was African. From Ghana, if he remembered correctly. Their paths crossed on campus sometimes because they had a major in common, though they hadn’t yet been in a class together. Some of his friends had, though, and they told him she was a computer science genius. From a distance, he’d always found her intensity intriguing.
Right before the door obscured his view of her, he thought he saw the African girl crack a half-smile. Since he couldn’t figure out what would have given her a reason to, he dismissed it as a figment of his imagination.
Edem had caught a snippet of the conversation between Paul and the RA boy as she was returning from her meeting with her CS partner. After working for hours, they had finally called it a night, assured that their presentation the following morning would not be a total flop-fest.
All day, she had been waiting for a letter from her teachers back home; those who had initiated her in the traditions of African Electronics and had made her promise not to misuse her skills. In addition to the consequences that were already woven into the fabric of the art itself, there were usually extra punishment doted out by the elders. She’d been preparing to receive hers all day, but so far, nothing had come.
Distressed and paranoid, she picked up her phone and called Fafali, the sexagenarian Anlo woman who was both her mentor and the elder she had the best personal relationship with. She wasn’t worried about the time; it might be late in Texas, but in her GMT zone, Fafali would already be up and on the go by now.
Fafali picked up a half-second through the first ring – she always knew when a phone call was coming – and didn’t bother wasting time with pleasantries.
“Let me guess: you’re wondering why you haven’t received notification from the elders, even though you know we are surely aware of what you’ve done,” Fafali said in rapid Ewe.
Fafali’s reply was saturated with impatience. “Well, for Mawu’s sake, someone had to put the fear of the gods in them! How can you be twenty years old and so deprived of home training?”
Edem was stunned. “Ah, Aunty, wait oo. You’re saying I’m not getting punished when I come home for the break?”
“Sweetie pie, your program wasn’t nearly severe enough to cause any brain damage. We’ve pronounced your distin resolved already. Cool your heart and go to bed, eh? It will not be good for you to be sleepy in your classes today. You better take your studies seriously, otherwise, you should really start getting fearful of returning home.”
“Yes Aunty! I’ll go to bed right now. Akpe lo! My regards to the elders.”
“Goodnight, eh. And may your afɔdzi never cause you that kind of stress again.”
Author: Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
If I had to summarize this book in a single word, I’d choose “epic”. Both the literal and connotative senses of the word are appropriate. I read this 430-page book in a single weekend, which, frankly, shocked even me. I had expected to have to dedicate a whole month to such an intimidatingly large book, but it proved me so wrong that when I started, I could not stop. Let’s not talk about how much I procrastinated with other responsibilities during those few days. No regrets, though, because Kintu is now one of my favorite books.
The book’s events spanned chronologically from the 1700s all the way to 2004, telling a long tale of individual characters’ interconnected life stories. The root of nearly everything is a common patriarch named – in case you couldn’t guess – Kintu.
The beginning portion of the story, which concerned tis patriarch, was impressively immersive. I couldn’t help but marvel at how easily I could feel the existences of Ganda (and Tutsi) characters from the 18th century. It would surely have taken a powerful combination of imagination and writing skill on Makumbi’s part, to make these characters feel so real.
The most complex character for me, I think, was Kintu himself, and his internal conflicts were at least as interesting as his actions. For instance, his bullish insistence on having Nnakato as a wife, and not Babirye. Nnakato and Babirye were twins; Babirye was older, and it just seemed absurd to everyone other than Kintu that he should want to marry a younger twin when the older was still unmarried. Kintu’s aversion to Babirye was so strong that I kept wondering at which point she was going to suddenly reveal herself to be a witch or demon or something. Honestly, at some point, I was just like, Chale, just marry the girl and continue with your life, eh? But Kintu’s bullheadedness was something else entirely.
Also, I liked that Kintu had a critical mind, through which I believe the book sufficiently explored the nature of the ages-old conflicts between what an individual wants and what that individual’s culture says s/he must have instead. Even in the 1700s, Kintu was aware of cultural ironies – for instance, how can a cultural system believe that twins were initially one in the womb and quarreled so much that they had to be separate from each other, and at the same time keep insisting that twin women stay together even through marriage? In Kintu’s opinion, if two beings have wanted to be separate since before they were even born, why are you insisting, now that they are grown women, that they still must not be separated? And I was like, well, he’s got a point there…
And then there was his sexual exhaustion, which I found wonderfully intriguing because I can’t remember ever having read a character with a problem like this before. Because Kintu was a Ppookino, he had women being offered to him as wives very often, so that his first wife, Nnakato, even had to draw up a roster that determined how Kintu split his time among them. But Kintu was an inherently monogamous man – his heart and love belonged only to Nnakato – living in a society that imposed polygamy over him, and it annoyed and exhausted him to have so many women to be obliged to sleep with. It was a curse and a trap unfortunately attached to his privilege, and it made me once again think deeply about the often tense relationships between individual interests and collective culture.
I also generally enjoyed being let into a vivid re-imagining of the operations of the Buganda kingdom and its politics, through fiction. Fiction is my favorite gateway into history (and most disciplines of knowledge, actually), and I feel like Makumbi has officially taught me more things in more memorable ways about a pre-colonial African society than any textbook ever could. This pleases me immensely.
Anyway, despite all of the super cool sub-themes in this epic novel, I’d say the main, over-arching one is juju. (Obviously not spoken of in terms of that specific word, it’s the closest I can get to what I mean.) Juju is how the thing upon which the rest of the story is based happened, because it resulted in a multi-generational curse upon Kintu’s bloodline by a Tutsi man. The nature of the curse was that it kept manifesting in different but eerily similar ways among the various descendants of the patriarch, until pretty much the end of the book.
I think all the lineage/descendant business was masterfully carried out. The way names were intentionally or unintentionally passed down, consistently mirrored those of the 18th-century characters from the novel’s first section, and it made the journey so wild. It was surprising, even, how anxious I got, any time a character with a name I recognized was introduced. My heart would start pounding in preemptive despair, wondering how the Kintu curse was about to strike this time. The way the curse worked was simultaneously patterned and unpredictable. The suspense was crazy.
Given that the book had so many characters, I was highly impressed by the fact that each main one still felt tangible and complete to me. A story that spans over hundreds of years is, I think, very difficult to achieve this with, but Makumbi did it so well. (Chale, so now what excuse does Homegoing have? Maybe it should have been at least 200 pages longer than it was.) Each character felt different and knowable, and their histories and explanations for why they were the way they were, made sense to me as a reader.
Lastly, one thing about Kintu that I appreciated was how “too African” the subject matter was. In this way, it reminded me of the feeling I had after reading Nii Ayikwei Parkes’ brilliant Tail of the Blue Bird. Kintu was uncompromising in how rooted it was in the locality of situations, people, stories, politics and family. It didn’t have to force any “international” issues or characters into the tale to make it more palpable to any literary market. Even the nationalist/identity distinctions it made were more African-originated than Berlin-influenced, and when it was Berlin-influenced, the narrative was self-aware of the fact.
Kintu. Is. Lit.
We have mastered the art of running, only to be transported to a world where flight is the norm. It has turned us into full-grown babies, grasping at the talons of our elders, the majestic eagles.
As soon as we find ourselves suddenly airborne, we stutter and fall, betrayed by our own immature, half-formed wings. Ours, too, may develop into mighty propellers someday, if only we let them; if only we permit ourselves once more to be ignorant, infantile, and renounce, at least for a period, our independence – and not a moment sooner.
Because if we are content to be perpetual sprinters, if we cannot suffer humiliation long enough to become teachable once again, we will pound the earth with our soles until our dying days, while those we have often considered beneath us, the guileless youth, elegantly and effortlessly conquer the sky.