From Publishers Weekly
Ugandan author Kyomuhendo's unsettling and richly atmospheric U.S. debut illustrates the terrible plight of a family struggling to survive the last months of Idi Amin's brutal dictatorship in 1979. Terrorized by Amin's soldiers fleeing Tanzanian forces allied with anti-Amin Ugandans, 13-year old Alinda hides out with her family on a farm in the western town of Hoima. Her postal clerk father snatches news of the invading soldiers from the city, while eldest son Tendo serves as a semi-reliable lookout. Grandmother Kaaka, younger daughter Maya, and other neighbors sharing the hideout, along with Alinda's pregnant mother, who goes into labor just as the soldiers arrive. Although the baby miraculously survives, Alinda's mother is killed, and Alinda must cook and care for the smaller children. Difficulties arise as brother Tendo runs off to join the "Liberators," and Alinda's female friend, Jungu, an outcast child of mixed Indian and black heritage, falls in love with a Tanzanian solider and aims to become the first female member of the army. The book, however, is less about plot than Kyomuhendo's strong portrayals of characters such as Uncle Kembo, who returns to recant his mercenary conversation to Islam, and the so-called Lendu woman, a Zairian foreigner considered a witch because of her knowledge of healing herbs. Kyomuhendo delineates the strife of her war-torn country with vivid, unflinching verve.
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The first draft of this unsettlingly quiet novel may have been written for Kyomuhendo's master's degree, but the finished book is no mere MFA exercise. Kyomuhendo's fourth adult novel (she has also written two children's novels), it is 13-year-old Alinda's first-person recollections of the dangerous last year of Idi Amin's rule in Uganda. As the front of rebel-versus-Amin fighting approaches her village, Alinda's mother is about to give birth. Rampaging soldiers reach the village and kill the old woman who was midwifing just as a son is born. Alinda must cut the cord. She must tend the baby, too, for as she obliquely imparts later, her mother dies. Friendly rebel soldiers little older than Alinda encamp for a while nearby, and one woos a friend of Alinda's. The rebels leave, but the girl, as well as Alinda's brother, wanting to be a soldier, set off after them. Those are the most momentous events in a brief narrative surprisingly full of human interplay and pungent smaller events, told with a verbal chastity reflecting both tension and dawning adult consciousness. Olson, Ray Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved