Let's Tell This Story Properly by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
(Also published as Manchester Happened by One World Publications, UK )
Format: Paper back
Publisher: Transit Books
Published: April 30th 2019
Genre: Anthology (Short Story Collection) / Literary Fiction
Setting: Manchester, UK / Uganda
Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
How far does one have to travel to find home elsewhere? The stories in Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s collection attempt to measure that distance. Centered around the lives of Ugandans in Britain, her characters are both hyper-visible and unseen―they take on jobs at airport security, care for the elderly, and work in hospitals, while remaining excluded from white, British life. As they try to find their place, they drift from a home that feels further and further away. In an ambitious collection by the critically acclaimed author of Kintu, Let's Tell This Story Properly explores what happens to those who leave. (Source: Goodreads)
This anthology opens with the author giving us an analogy of being the poorest in your clan and having to rely on a rich uncle. This rich uncle will often times threaten to withdraw his support if you do act accordingly but since you need the help, you toe the line. You ask your rich uncle if you can move in with him because your prospects will be much better then, he agrees, but not before he chastises your father for being incompetent. Your rich cousins begin to get tired of you. They want you out, and so you shrink, you try to not be a nuisance, not to take up too much space. And when they presume things about you, it hurts but you’ve already lost your voice. You gravitate more towards the other poor relatives living with your uncle and try to make something of your situation.
A perfect analogy of the Migrant experience! And so begins these stories of Ugandans in Manchester……
The anthology is a collection of 12 short stories, divided into two parts – Departing and Returning. Departing tells the stories of Ugandans, newly arrived and/or trying to navigate this new land. Through these stories we see how hope can quickly turn to despair, how this new land that does not make room for your culture can affect your personality, how you cling on to who you were even though you can see yourself changing a little every day, how relationships with those who welcome you can take a turn for the best or worst, the lengths you will go to, to stay even when it’s clear you are not welcome and how the community can offer solace and grounding.
Returning focuses on those who return to their homeland to discover things are not as they hoped. The condescending attitude of the populace towards the returnees, the new culture shock, the impatience with this developing world that never seems to be get off its feet. The confliction with wanting to belong, knowing the foreign land took something of you and that you may never really fully reintegrate.
This is an incisive book and the stories are told with such depth and compassion, from multiple perspectives and by characters with multiple experiences. One of the stories “Memoirs of a Namaaso” is narrated by a pariah Ugandan dog that migrates to the UK and becomes a pet dog.
Picking a favourite was difficult but gun to my head, I’d have to go with “Let’s Tell This Story Properly’ because it speaks to a personal experience. Gun to my head, pick two – I’d pick ‘Manchester Happened’ because this story really shows you how relationships and people can evolve when they have to interact in a foreign land and out of their comfort zones.
I highly recommend this book. Also, I’d love to know if you’ve read the book and which stories resonated with you the most.