Isegawa’s first book, Abyssinian Chronicles, attracted significant attention both locally and internationally when it came out in 2000. And not because it was the first to expose the brutality of Idi Amin’s regime, or to delve into the history of pre- and post-Amin Uganda (it wasn’t).
Isegawa manages to sew together multiple narratives and themes, as he offers his perspective on Uganda’s troubled history.
The first part of the book centres on Mugezi, a young man growing up in post-colonial Uganda. Born in 1961, a year before Uganda attained independence, Mugenzi describes a troubled childhood living under the tyranny and strict rules of his parents. The family moves to Kampala, the nation’s capital about the time Idi Amin comes to power in 1971.
The second half of the book reads more like a history of Uganda both under the brutal regime of Idi Amin and after. At first, Mugezi (like many Ugandans at the time) is excited about the country’s prospects under Idi Amin, following the ouster of Milton Obote and his corrupt government. Soon, however, Amin’s regime descends to the depths of brutality and mismanagement – starting with a botched “Africanization” campaign that leads to the expulsion of thousands of Asian businessmen.
Isegawa explores prominent themes and periods in Uganda’s history including the post-Idi Amin period, the return of Obote, the protracted guerrilla resistance that brought current President Yoweri Museveni to power, Uganda’s brave fight against HIV/AIDS, and the continuing poverty, giving unique insights into the country and its people.
Mugezi comes through this all, battered and bruised by all he’s gone through. He ends up leaving Uganda to move to Holland.
To some critics, Isegawa attempts to cover too much ground in one book. At nearly 500 pages, this is by no means a short read, but the author largely manages to make it worth the time. It is an impressive first novel, and one that provides an original and personal peek into Uganda’s troubled past.