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Abyssinian Chronicles: A Novel by Moses…

Abyssinian Chronicles: A Novel (1998)

by Moses Isegawa

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (8)  Dutch (1)  All languages (9)
Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
First published in dutch in 1998 under the title Abessijnse Kronieken, this book soon achieved notority, and a number of translations into several european languages, including this portuguese one, have been printed. Several critics have claimed this novel a landmark in african literature and a book of universal import. Whatever the veredict of time concerning its standing as part of the canon, this is certainly a powerful novel, telling the saga of a Ugandan man (the narrator) and of his family through the last half of the twentieth century. A grand canvas of live in Uganda, but also a mirror of a large part of sub-saharian Africa: a blunt tale of misery, despair, hope and achievement amid a turbulent childhood, a castrating Catholic education, brutal dictatorships, mercyless wars, and the wretch brought about by the AIDS epidemic. Written in a lively style evoking powerful images, one reads quickly and effortlessly through the five hundred plus pages of this absorbing book just to feel sad when it finally ends... ( )
  FPdC | May 25, 2010 |
As much as I loved the first half of this book, the fact that I almost quit reading it several times through the second half after it lost nearly all its steam made me dislike it far more than I should.

After reading The Last King of Scotland not long ago, I thought I'd try a different take on the 70s situation in Uganda. This one focused more on the citizens than it did on the government, specifically a narrator who grew up through the dictatorship and government overthrows.

The book starts off explaining the background information on the narrator's family, including his father and grandfather, in their small village. The first half of the book is almost strictly on the narrator's life and his family. The accounts of his daily life both in the village and in Kampala and the Seminary are both interesting and funny, since the narrator tends to enjoy outsmarting people who he disagrees with.

The government situation doesn't enter into the first part much at all save for when it directly affects the family's life, such as the house his mother and father get in Kampala or his father's position at work.

Once the character leaves the seminary, the second half of the book focuses heavily on the fighting between guerrilla and government soldiers and the effects on the country at large. This part was much less interesting since the narrator was playing very little part in what was going on.

The second half of the book is actually quite difficult to get through because of this. It also doesn't help that the time period for all the events is fairly unclear through the entire novel, as is the age of the narrator. Occasionally the year is brought up, and occasionally Mugezi's age is also mentioned, but it's really hard to tell how much time is passing once he leaves the seminary.

The final "book" was fairly interesting and entertaining once again, when the narrator leaves Uganda and winds up in Amsterdam. It seemed like the storytelling worked best when only dealing with a narrow thread of events and people.

The writing style also got on my nerves sometimes. There are copious, flowery descriptions of everything. At one point, the description of a plane ride and Mugezi's mindset takes up three or four pages.

Even as interested as I was in the history in the book, and as much as I liked the main character and his family, I just could not bring myself to like this book in the end. ( )
  ConnieJo | Feb 6, 2009 |
In Moses Isegawa's riveting first novel, the writing is big, but the story is even bigger. It is a coming of age chronicle of post-colonial Ugandan history, as told by the narrator, who is also coming of age, Mugezi. Isegawa candidly touches on many subjects: Obote, Idi Amin, civil wars, corruption, rapes, religion, party politics, the AIDS epidemic, culture, tradition, morals, and community folklore. While much of the novel contains serious subject matter, humorous sections are abundant, and I found myself laughing out loud periodically. Early on, the author spectacularly foreshadows the deaths of two main characters, and clear parallels are drawn between the dictators of the era and the culture of the home. The text is ornate and difficult at times, but it reads like a classic. I picked out this novel, since I have traveled to Uganda, and after having read it, Isegawa is now on my list of favorite authors. ( )
  Katie_H | Nov 19, 2007 |
My feelings on the book are mixed - many good and some bad. The fomulation of chapters rather than longer 'books' would have made it easier, as it was a long read. I did enjoy some of the prose which, while not succeeding all the time and being a bit overblown in parts, still captivated me. It had an uncontrolled, uneven, and undisciplined structure - pwehaps hallmarking it as a first novel.

For me, it read as an epic of a family, covering a turbulent 30 years of history in Uganda. It touched on politics, social structure, religion, AIDS and the family.

The characters seemed to be instuments for illustrating the necessary events in the timeline, and too much continuity of them through the story would have made it too busy for me. However, they did not develop into sympathetic or believable people for me - I found myself reading the book as a historical sweep of various Uganda events, rather than getting immersed in the characters.

I thought that it was a mistake that the author used first person narrative - it hindered the flow and gave me higher expectations of individual character development. I did not feel any sympathy at all for Mugezi (the narrator) - possibly there was significant autobiographical content?

I found the treatment of woman disturbing and the portrayal of Padlock (the narrator's mother) 'over the top'; just too much - really not believable in the end, even accounting for her obvious fanaticism. I was not sure what Isegawa was trying to say about women in Ugandan society through the persistently violent and degrading portrayals in the narrative?

Overall the book comes across to me as a turbulent, somewhat disjointed, emotive, rather uneven and disturbing book. It has stimulated my interest in Uganda (which I know embarrassingly little about).

If you are an African buff, there are good insights into Ugandan society, and the late 20th Century social and political events. But don't read this if you want plot or character development. ( )
3 vote kiwidoc | Oct 27, 2007 |
I just could not get into this book - eventually I gave up, which killed me since I hate leaving a book unfinished.

The characters in this book seemed really one-dimensional (especially the female characters) and the main character often seemed like a secondary character in his own life. I felt like I knew more about his father and his grandfather than about him.

The narrative itself was very confusing and meandering - I had trouble understanding how different events fit together and when things were happening.

I thought the book did a nice job of highlighting the different religious, ethnic/racial, and socio-economic classes that made up Ugandan society and the dislocations of these groups experienced due to the political upheavals in Uganda. But these passages seemed really disconnected from the narrative of Mugezi and his family.

I wish I could recommend this book, but it just didn't do anything for me. ( )
  fannyprice | Oct 25, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Isegawa, MosesAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Houts, Chris vanPhotographersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koeleman, PaulCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Loohuizen, RiaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Three final images flashed across Serenity's mind as he disappeared into the jaws of the colossal crocodile: a rotting buffalo with rivers of maggots and armies of flies emanating from its cavities; the aunt of his missing wife, who was also his longtime lover; and the mysterious woman who had cured his childhood obsession with tall women.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375705775, Paperback)

In his hugely impressive Abyssinian Chronicles Moses Isegawa renders the chaotic swirl of life in Uganda, from a lazy, remote village to the urban rush of Kampala. Containing within its 460 pages weddings, funerals, infidelities, public struggles with corrupt dictatorships (a section called "Amin, the Godfather"), and private struggles with God ("Seminary Years"), this is a first novel of epic ambitions. Narrated by Mugezi, the son of a man named Serenity and a woman named Padlock, Isegawa's book is wild and decentered, moving swiftly and confidently from place to place, from character to character. It is the kind of book that says, just follow, trust me, all these names and passions will sort themselves out and make sense sooner or later.

The prose itself bristles and cooks, with graceful transitions ("This time a year passed without hearing any news from Tiida") and scenes lurching with activity. Isegawa, who was born in Uganda but now lives in the Netherlands, is a master of unexpected verbs and details. Here Mugezi describes his mother's voice:

This woman knew how to irritate me on all fronts: her pathetic country-western girlie whine, xeroxed from a white nun from her convent days, the same nun from whom she had inherited the little tremolos which she sprinkled piously on the last hymn every night, really got to me.
Inconsistencies in the narrator's point of view can mar this novel and arrest its progress. The narrator will suddenly describe interior states he couldn't possibly know about: his mother's depression and loneliness, which she hides from everyone, the deepest thoughts of distant relatives. But for readers hoping to glimpse a foreign world, these bumps in the road are worth the ride. --Ellen Williams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:16 -0400)

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Set in a tribal village during the years of the Idi Amin terror in Uganda. Takes the readers into the heart of Africa, vividly describing the extremes of beauty and brutality, wisdom and ignorance, wealth and poverty, hope and despair that define the continent today.… (more)

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