Friday, 19 December 2008

My Fourth Book Review for the Africa Reading Challenge: From Juliet to Julius

From Juliet to Julius: In Search of My True Gender Identity
Author: Julius Kaggwa
Publisher: Fountain Publisher, Kampala
ISBN: 9970-02-131-1
Pages: x + 115
Reviewer: D. Mwesigye Gumisiriza

It has been called an extra-ordinary story, and indeed it is. The author recounts his story that in many instances feels ‘stranger than fiction’: how he was raised as a girl, grew up as a woman and eventually became a man.

After he was born, his mother consulted ancestral spirits over his ‘abnormal’ sexual parts, and it was dictated that the baby was a girl. And thus, Julius begun his life as Juliet—a life that he [or she at that time] never really adjusted to especially in the adolescent years when Juliet/Julius was more aware of the characteristics of a girl. For instance, having menstruation periods, which he/she never experienced but had to pretend about it and many other things like this. As a consequence of trying to fit in, Juliet was not able to form close friendships during high school. Ironically, it was through the help of friends that Juliet was able and supported to make the transition to Julius.

Losing both his parents to AIDS, facing social stigma and feeling more like a man, Juliet had to overcome these and many other challenges to become what she really felt like—male instead of female. With counselling and seeking guidance as a ‘born again Christian’, Julius slowly and painfully adjusted to his new identity....or more appropriately, true gender.

This autobiography is written in a very simple style, it is easy to read and lively....despite a few grammar errors and repetitions, it feels like Juliet/Julius is recounting her/his experiences in a conversation with her/him instead of through a book!

Friday, 5 December 2008

My Third Book Review for the Africa Reading Challenge: Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun

Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Publisher: Anchor Books, New York

ISBN: 978-1-4000-9520-9

Pages: 543

Reviewer: D. Mwesigye Gumisiriza

This is a story of the Nigeria-Biafran War (1967-1970) told through the experiences of the main characters—before, during and after the war. A large part of it is narrated from the perspective of Ugukwu, who is a houseboy to Odenigbo, a lecturer at the University of Nsukka whom he often refers to as ‘Master’. And it is from Ugukwu that we get insights into the life and character of his Master, his relationship with university colleagues during their regular intellectual debates in his sitting room, his fiancĂ©e Olanna who returns from studies in the United Kingdom to stay with him, his beliefs and convictions as regards national [Nigerian] and international issues, among others. Ugukwu, being from a rural background, also shows how the modern and traditional in many aspects of life in an African country, such as Nigeria, are inter-linked through his observations and interactions with this ‘elite society’ at the university.

Other characters central to the story are Kainene, Olanna’s twin sister, and her British boyfriend, Richard. Kainene and Olanna are from a very rich and well-connected family but are very different in physical appearance, character and outlook. Richard, on the other hand, comes to Nigeria from Britain looking for inspiration to write a book. He is attached to the expatriate community but never quite fits in until he falls in love with Kainene. He then embarks on a journey of self-discovery as he integrates and begins to understand the country, the people and their way of life.

The advent of the secessionist war changes their lives fundamentally and how they view the world about them. As they adjust to the realities of war and its toll on them greatly contributes to the way they interact with each other afterwards.

The author uses several publications on the Biafran-Nigeria War and personal accounts from people who experienced it to create the backdrop to this compelling story. It is not the war per se that is the focus but the humanity of the people that emerges amidst life-changing situations. She uses a great dose of symbolisms to drive her point home as exemplified by the title which is taken from the emblem by the breakaway Biafra territory.