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A Best Book of the Year pick at TIME, The Washington Post, and O, the Oprah Magazine
"Makumbi’s prose is irresistible and poignant, with remarkable wit, heart and charm—poetic and nuanced, brilliant and sly, openhearted and cunning, balancing discordant truths in wise ruminations." —The New York Times Book Review
"A mesmerizing feminist epic." —O, the Oprah Magazine
International award–winning author Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s novel is a sweeping and powerful portrait of a young girl and her family: who they are, what history has taken from them, and—most importantly—how they find their way back to each other.
In her thirteenth year, Kirabo confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small Ugandan village of Nattetta—her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts—but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of age she feels the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her at odds with her sweet and obedient nature.
Seeking answers, Kirabo begins spending afternoons with Nsuuta, the local witch, trading stories and learning not only about this force inside her, but about the woman who birthed her, who she learns is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also explains that Kirabo has a streak of the “first woman”—an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.
Kirabo’s journey to reconcile her rebellious origins, alongside her desire to reconnect with her mother and to honor her family’s expectations, is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an arresting exploration of what it means to be a modern girl in a world that seems determined to silence women. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s unforgettable novel is a sweeping testament to the true and lasting connections between history, tradition, family, friends, and the promise of a different future.
About the Author
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize and her first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani? Manuscript Project Prize in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. Her story “Let’s Tell This Story Properly” was the global winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Jennifer lives in Manchester, UK with her husband and son.
Makumbi’s prose is irresistible and poignant, with remarkable wit, heart and charm—poetic and nuanced, brilliant and sly, openhearted and cunning, balancing discordant truths in wise ruminations. A Girl Is a Body of Water rewards the reader with one of the most outstanding heroines and the incredible honor of journeying by her side.
— The New York Times Book Review
A mesmerizing feminist epic. — O, The Oprah Magazine
In lyrical prose, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi renders Kirabo’s coming-of-age tale as a tender depiction of evolving womanhood, self-awareness in a tight-knit community and the path back to family and history. — TIME
A novel bursting with resilience and warmth. . . . Mixing the mythic and the modern, happily ignoring formal neatness to encompass Uganda’s miscellaneousness, it’s an enthralling achievement. — Sunday Times
Blazing. . . . Glorious. — The Washington Post
At turns rapturous and devastating. . . . Makumbi's writing uplifts and inspires, evoking the grand tradition of folklore and stories passed down, one woman to the next. — Refinery29
With each new work, Makumbi cements her position as a writer of great influence in our time and for future generations. — Booklist, Starred Review
Makumbi’s rich language and detailed descriptions are a must-read. — HelloGiggles
Kirabo's journey of self-discovery is at once inspiring and epic. — PopSugar
A magnificent blend of Ugandan folklore and more modern notions of feminism. . . . This book is a jewel. — Kirkus, Starred Review
This beautifully rendered saga is a riveting deconstruction of social perceptions of women’s abilities and roles. — Publishers Weekly
Bewitching. . . . Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a mesmerizing storyteller, slowly pulling readers in with a captivating cast of multifaceted characters and a soupçon of magical realism guaranteed to appeal to fans of Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.
— Library Journal
Makumbi is such an honest, truthful writer and her truth wins out. I was so moved by A Girl Is a Body of Water and loved every single page.
— Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage
In A Girl is a Body of Water Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi takes the classic male quest for identity and turns it spectacularly on its head. Kirabo’s journey toward self-possession is a beautiful, wise, and exhilarating read.
— Lily King, author of Writers & Lovers
A wonder—as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself. — Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift
A Girl is a Body of Water is captivating, wise, humorous and tender: Makumbi has come back stronger than ever. This is a tale about Kirabo and her family, and her place in the world as she searches for her mother and a true sense of belonging. But most of all, this is a book about the stories that define us, and those we tell to redefine ourselves. A riveting read.
— Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King
Superb. An intoxicating tale that combines mythic and modern elements to make the headiest of feminist brews. — Irenosen Okojie, author of Nudibranch
In her characteristically page-turning and engaging style, Makumbi lays bare the complex power dynamics of patriarchy, capitalism and neocolonialism, not through academic jargon but via that most effective tool of education—storytelling. An achingly beautiful tale. — Sylvia Tamale