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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Goretti Kyomuhendo

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Waiting

Title: Waiting
Author: Goretti Kyomuhendo
Genre: Novel
Written: 20071
Length: 126 pages
Availability: Waiting - US
Waiting - UK
Waiting - Canada
  • A Novel of Uganda at War
  • With an Afterword by M.J.Daymond

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Our Assessment:

B : fine novella of country-life in Uganda in 1979

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
New Statesman . 10/1/2008 Jastinder Khera

  From the Reviews:
  • "(P)rimarily a sensitive, slowly unravelling observation of daily life in a remote Ugandan village as Aminís marauding soldiers approach on their retreat north. (...) The dialogue is often clumsy when broader themes, such as Aminís manipulation of ethnic divisions, are discussed; and the ending leaves questions unanswered. But that is perhaps inevitable in a novel about waiting for the end of a conflict and the beginning of adulthood." - Jastinder Khera, New Statesman

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Waiting is set in the Ugandan countryside at the end of Idi Amin's reign, his troops in a mad, brutal dash to safety (and to loot whatever they can on the way) while the unknown quantity of the 'Liberators' sweeps through the country. Set in a rural area, there is nevertheless concern about the rampaging soldiers who pass nearby.
       Waiting is narrated by thirteen-year-old Alinda, and begins with older brother, Tendo, perched in a tree, on the lookout for soldiers. The family does not know whether or not they are safe; generally they go out to sleep in a hideout away from the house, so that they will not be surprised by soldiers coming through. Their situation is complicated by the fact that Alinda's mother is due to give birth any day now and isn't very mobile.
       Waiting is very much about waiting, as everything about the future is uncertain. There's little news, and no way of knowing what will come upon the family next. The waiting for the birth of the child is just another layer of expectation: something inevitable, yet whose outcome is still completely indeterminate. With the hospitals closed and the difficulty of finding a midwife the pregnancy brings with it more dangers than usual, too. But there is little to be done, beyond preparing as best one can with what is at hand, just as they eventually bury what few valuables they have (a bicycle, a radio, mattresses, saucepans (!)) in a pit when they believe the looting soldiers are coming closer.
       The soldiers pass through, leading to only a brief but still costly confrontation; soon it is the Liberators that are the dominant presence in the area. Uncertainty remains the order of the day, with an arbitrariness to much that happens: there aren't many deaths or injuries, but those that do occur don't happen for much of a reason.
       Waiting describes this uncertainty, with the child's perspective amplifying it, as she can not understand everything that is happening around her (even as she has to assume a more adult role). Life goes on, and Kyomuhendo is particularly effective in describing how the characters adapt to the situation, a new 'family' reconstituting itself here. Background is filled in as well, giving some sense of life under the Amin regime -- not all that different in many respects, with only the differing treatment of certain groups emphasised: there's Uncle Kembo, who was successful for a while because he converted to Islam (as Amin called everyone to do) and benefitted from the advantages that gave him (before blowing them all), and there's Alinda's best friend, Jungu, a mixed-race child whose father was obviously one of the Indians forced out of Uganda by Amin. Kyomuhendo weaves this background (as well as that of a local who had murdered his wife many years earlier) nicely into the narrative, and uses it effectively in that present.
       Many of the Liberators are from Tanzania, adding to some of the ethnic mix already found here. More significantly, they speak the same different language, Kiswahili -- leading Alinda to wonder:

     "But what about their own languages ? I mean the languages of their tribes ?"
     "They don't speak them."
     "Then how can they tell what tribe someone belongs to ?"
     "I'm sure it must be difficult since everyone speaks the same language. Maybe they can tell by their names, you know, just like here; people from different regions have different names. "
     "I guess I like it better here, where people are able to speak the language of their tribes."
       It's perhaps no surprise that Jungu is more drawn to the melting-pot ideal, but in their own way -- including in taking in Jungu for a while -- Alinda's family is also very inclusive.
       The Liberators disappear as suddenly as they came. What they leave behind isn't quite normality -- the sense of waiting continues -- but at least a sense of somewhat greater security. Equally importantly, Alinda's family has reconstituted itself once again, new members taken in even as others are lost.
       In not dwelling on the frontline horrors of the Amin regime or the war to topple him, and in focussing instead on the rural experience during these times Waiting offers a useful perspective. Kyomuhendo's story is fairly simple and quick -- many authors would have fleshed out this material and made a book several times this length of it, and one occasionally wishes she had as well -- but still rich and evocative, making for a memorable novella. An appealing family portrait, of conditions very unlike those known to most Western readers, Waiting is certainly a small-scale success.
       M.J.Daymond's lengthy Afterword is also useful, reminding readers of what Ugandan readers would be aware of -- that the successor-regime of Obote was only a different sort of bad ("a weaker and more brutal government", Daymond claims, which may be putting it a bit too simply) -- as well as offering insight into a variety of the novella's aspects.

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Waiting: Reviews: Goretti Kyomuhendo:
  • Interview at The Virtual Writing Library
  • Femrite - Uganda Women Writers' Association
Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of books from and about Africa

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About the Author:

       Ugandan author Goretti Kyomuhendo was born in 1965. She helped found and is the programme director of Femrite, the Uganda Women Writers' Association.

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