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A Girl is A Body of Water

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Member Reviews

A powerful combination of the archetypal coming of age narrative and culture-specific language and traditions. The pacing is exquisite; the characters and their relationships are nuanced and believable. Makumbi is a skilled storyteller who celebrates womanhood in all of its stages. A fantastic read.

Thank you to Tin House Books and NetGalley for N Advance Release Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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A GIRL IS A BODY OF WATER is a breathtaking novel about Kirabo and her discovery of herself, her history, and the complexities of people and our communities. The prose is beautiful, the characters come almost hauntingly vividly to life, and the messages about our bodies, trusting and confiding in and working with fellow women, connecting ourselves to our complex histories, and learning about ourselves and our families enough to know we have the power to envision our own futures. It doesn't mean there aren't forces working against us, forces of oppression that marginalize and disenfranchise us, but it does mean that Kirabo is able to find it in herself, with the help of her community, to quietly subvert the power structures holding her and so many other girls down. 

The first probably half of the book was a little less action-packed for me, but it also simultaneously did some important world-building, introduced us to many layers of the characters, and allowed me to really get a good understanding of the context of the book. And then the second half happened, I couldn't put down the book, and suddenly it was basically the middle of the night! I love it when that happens. 

Congratulations to Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi for this stunning novel and thank you so much to the publisher and NetGalley for this advance copy!
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Its been a while since I have read a story like this. The world needs more stories like this. I can't wait to share this story with anyone who will listen
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I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Interesting novel on polygamous marriage and African society.  This novel covers rural versus city life, class differences, and familial issues.  Enlightening and entertaining.
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This beautiful, introspective coming of age story set in 1970s Uganda introduces us to Kirabo a feisty, smart 12-year-old with a lot of questions about herself and the patriarchal system she was raised in.

What struck me most about “A Girl is a Body of Water” was it’s commentary on women. Often Kirabo finds herself at odds with some of the people closest to her and it often happens that women are almost meaner to each other than men. 

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi uses this to brilliantly weave together two story lines that show us the power of trusting other women and building each other up, instead of tearing down.

While the first half of the book was a bit slow for me, you meet a lot of people and learn about their relationships...the last 200 were a whirlwind and I couldn’t put it down. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Tin House for this eARC and the opportunity to provide this review.
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In this sweeping saga, a young girl growing up in 1970s Uganda struggles to find her mother and to be a modern girl in a restrictive and patriarchal society.
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Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, begins to question herself as she reaches her twelfth birthday. Raised by the women in her village, she's never known her mother but becomes fixated on who she was. Searching for answers, she begins to meet with Nsuuta, a woman thought to be a witch by the others in the village, and Kirabo learns more about what it means to be a woman in different contexts.

This book was an experience, a poignant, introspective collection of observations about coming of age, family, womanhood, femininity, and gender roles. Kirabo's voice was endearing, and my favorite moments were when she reflected on the advice other women give her. Seeing her work through her confusion to draw her own conclusions, and having those conclusions further questioned with the more experience she gains, was a gripping construct. 

The most striking aspect of A Girl Is a Body of Water was the commentary and critique on women. As a young girl, Kirabo defines who she is through storytelling and other people's opinions of her. She wants her grandparents to respect her, the older kids to acknowledge her, and more than anything, she wants to find her purpose. In questioning her identity, however, she becomes acutely aware of her body, her sexuality--reproductive and the stigma surrounding girls who are sexually active--and realizes that being a woman isn't as simple as she thought. Women are supposed to support each other, but she frequently finds herself at odds with the other women in her life. A woman's worth is defined by men, whether it be father or husband, but Kirabo spends her early years apart from her father and then watches as he's scolded by his mother. Her struggle to make sense of herself in a world of competing dichotomies was so relatable and spot-on. This is where Makumbi shines; beyond culture and race and religion and differences, there is a universal complexity to being a woman, and the journey to self-discovery is oftentimes full of confusion and doubt. 

And hope. 

Makumbi's writing is beautiful, authentic, and seemingly effortless. I appreciated her use of storytelling traditions and oral histories and could've read those stories all day. Some of the chapters were a bit dense and description heavy, but overall, A Girl Is a Body of Water was a superb, heartfelt, brilliant read with no shortage of heart string-tugging moments and beautiful reflection. 

Thank you to Tin House and NetGalley for providing an eARC in exchange for honest review consideration.
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In this coming-of-age story set in 1970s Uganda, we meet Kirabo, a young girl who lives with her paternal grandparents and has no knowledge of her mother. The story follows her as she grows up: her friendships; first love; complicated family dynamics; and more. While I enjoyed the book, it was definitely a challenge to get through because of the many references to Ugandan society and culture. With some Googling, it is manageable, but even then I wonder how much I missed out on because of my lack of knowledge and familiarity with the country. I'd be curious to hear what someone who does know about Uganda or is from there got out of the book and compare notes. In any case, if you're willing to put in a little work or be okay with not understanding every reference, this is a worthwhile read.
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This review is of what may be a pre-final-edited-version of this book provided to me via Net Galley.

A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is essentially a coming-of-age story set in Uganda in the 1970s. The story begins with Kirabo Nnamiiro, a smart, feisty, twelve-year-old girl who consults a blind elderly neighbor, Nsuuta-labeled by the village as a witch-, to help search for her mother and also to help her to deal with the conflicting emotions wracking her teenage body that make her "feel squeezed inside this body as if there is no space." The relationship Kirabo develops with Nsuuta is complicated by the contentious relationship between Nsuuta and Kirabo's grandmother, Muka Miiro, an intriguing relationship which becomes the centerpiece of the story at one point. 

The book is simple in structure yet filled with such beautiful detail, colorful depictions, and such complex relationships that--once you get into it-- it is impossible to stop reading until you know how where the journey ends. It got off to a slow start. For example, in the beginning we meet a large chorus of cousins, most of whom do not feature in the rest of the book. And in early meetings between Kirabo and Nsuuta, their exchange is so filled with undertones of an unspoken history, readers may find it hard to get immersed in their discussions. As a result (assuming the audience is YA) I question whether teen readers will truly connect with this book.

That said, readers who persevere will be well rewarded. As the book continues, we journey with Kirabo through many changes. She leaves her rural home where her grandfather, Miiro, commands great respect as a wealthy farmer and moves to the city where she sees her relative wealth in a different light and "her dress, which she had thought so pretty, now [feels] drab." As the book progresses, Kirabo learns her family secrets, falls in love, goes to a prestigious all-girls boarding school, and endures great emotional pain and betrayal until we leave her at nineteen matured, assertive, and about to embark on a significant new journey. 

Kirabo has a large close-knit extended family, and so A Girl is a Body of Water includes a large cast of characters that is sometimes difficult to follow. There were a couple of characters who were drawn in a harshly negative light and given no real opportunity for redemption, but the main cast is truly appealing, realistic, and nuanced and most readers will relate to Kirabo's adventurous spirit, the fun and rebellious aunt Abi, and the gentle interior under Grandmother's sternness, and more.

In addition to being a coming of age story, A Girl is a Body of Water takes a serious look at a number of issues which were front and center for women in the 1970s and remain so today. Women’s rights and the feminist movement (mwenkanonkano) are a central theme as Kirabo questions her place in the world and the contrast between the opportunities afforded to and the expectations placed on her and those available to her male counterparts. Nsuuta shows her the power of story-telling to build community but also to change a narrative to suit the story-teller's purpose and often to redefine women's position in the world, making them "rootless." They discuss ideas such as the way that "women are brought up to treat sex as sacred while men treat it as a snack" and how since "Boys and men were [portrayed as] fell on girls not to awaken the animal in men." In the early sections of the book when Kirabo is twelve, it seems unrealistic that she truly understands some of these concepts and the discussions come across as Makumbi trying to make a point, however, overall, the ideas are woven tightly into the narrative and do not stand out as being preachy. In addition, the book attempts a balanced look at the treatment of women and includes a number of men who make a conscious effort to treat women respectively and as equals, although Kirabo realizes that even these men view some women worthy of respect and others, disposable. 

The book is set during Idi Amin's presidency and as a result, the scourge of unrest, war, and clan rivalry touches the character's lives. Makumbi avoids making this a political commentary, only including the impact of the war as much as it disrupts the family's life. At the forefront are the relationships among the characters, fierce loyalties, tight friendships, blind love, and betrayal. The story also touches on the complexities of inheritance in a country where maintaining land ownership within a family is paramount. 

The story is deeply steeped in Ugandan landscape, culture, lifestyle, and language. The narrative and the dialog are both written with  nuances of - what I assume is - Ugandan speech, and this is as it should be. While certain turns of phrase or customs may seem unusual to Western readers, this is an added bonus for those readers-exposure to something new; a learning opportunity encapsulated in an engaging novel.

A Girl is a Body of Water takes an unbiased and unapologetic look at gender-, class-, religion-, and color-related challenges of growing up as a young woman in 1970 in Uganda in a way that will resonate with many readers and make us question how much we have really evolved.
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Sad to say, I struggled with this book. I had a hard  time keeping the characters straight and making sense of what I was reading. I think it’s well written, just not a good fit for me. 
3 stars

Galley copy provided by Net Galley for an honest review.
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A stunning and heartbreaking coming of age story at the height of political unrest in Uganda. Devastating to think what life was like for a young girl under the rule of Idi Amin. This story enthralled and saddened me.
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