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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Experience

Eneriko Seruma

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Title: The Experience
Author: Eneriko Seruma
Genre: Novel
Written: 1970
Length: 165 pages
Availability: The Experience is out of print

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Our Assessment:

B- : somewhat simplistic but a decent effort describing a slice of African life in the late 1960s

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Eneriko Seruma's novel, The Experience, was published in 1970. Soon after that Idi Amin came to power, wreaking his perverse havoc -- from which the nation has still not fully recovered. Seruma's Uganda is not yet one suffering under the dictator's ruthless tyranny (and then its aftermath).
       The Experience is the story of Tom Miti, a young Ugandan who catches the eye of Ian Turner, a teacher from Britain, when he tries to save a boy from drowning. Impressed by Miti's courage Turner takes him under his wing and helps him out. Miti is a fairly typical Ugandan youth. He works for an Asian (i.e. Indian), and he is in love with a childhood friend, the now-married Najja.
       Najja's father gets run over by one of Turner's servants who is driving Turner's car. Miti -- who has occasionally been seen being driven home in that car -- is guilty by association, and is advised to clear out for a while. Miti also gets into an argument with his father, and in standing up to him dishonors the man, leading to a terrible rift in the family.
       Turner takes Miti in. Miti can quit his hated job, and enjoy a more carefree life (and nightlife) with his white friend. A friend of Turner's then arranges a college scholarship for Miti in America, an incredible opportunity that should change his life.
       The book jumps from Miti's departure for the States immediately to his return two years later. The reason why he returns early is immediately given, but the actual experiences Miti had in America are only slowly revealed. Race was a major problem, especially at the New Hampshire college he was sent to, an inappropriate setting where he was practically the only black person. His relations with women were also problematic, his race always somehow an issue.
       Back in Uganda Miti returns to Turner's house and they continue as they had before Miti left. Both Turner and Miti find themselves drawn to a black woman, Mary, and tensions rise. Sarah, Turner's white girlfriend, adds to the odd dynamics, and things come to a head when they all go on safari together.
       They go to Karamoja, where the native people (Karamojang) are exotic even to most black Ugandans. Each of the characters tries to find an escape here -- Sarah makes love to a Karamojang (though an educated one who feels he is better than his people now), and Miti even proposes to a Karamojang (he is turned down because he does not have any cows to offer in exchange for the woman's hand). No one is successful.
       The end is first merely melodramatic and then actually fairly dramatic, an appropriate uncertain close to the novel. First, however, Miti explains himself:

What happened to me, Ian, was that I lived through The Experience -- the impossible life of a black man in a white world.
       Seruma is fairly blunt in his presentation and his message. He is also not too one-sided: Miti is presented as being equally to blame for some of his own misfortunes and failures -- taking drugs, driving (and, more significantly, crashing) without a license and while intoxicated. Most of the story is told decently, though a bit hurriedly. Seruma relies too heavily on motor vehicle accidents in the novel -- there are three major ones -- but otherwise the plot is quite good, and well-related. There's quite a bit of sex, and an interesting array of clashing cultures -- from various Ugandan cultures to the black and white issues both in Uganda and the United States.
       A short, quick read, Seruma still achieves a fair amount in these pages. The writing is not polished, but it is a decent effort -- and a rare authentic sliver of those times.

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Other books set in Uganda under review: Other books under review that may be of interest:
  • Index of books relating to Africa under review

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About the Author:

       Eneriko Seruma (Henry Kimbugwe) is a Ugandan author.

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