Set in Uganda and Rwanda, Of Saints and Scarecrows is a love story only that it doesn’t have a fairy tale ending.
Though the beginning is rather confusing, the reader is able to enjoy the story as she reads on. We are introduced to Beelzebub, a prophet whose parents were murdered most tragically through the machinations of a fierce tug of war between the church and mosque. The real story, however, is not about Beelzebub, but rather about his parents – Sempa and Julia. When Ssempa, a Muslim (though a non believer) and Julia a catholic nun meet and fall in love, it only means trouble between the two conflicting religions. Can their love transcend religious boundaries?
The story plays out against the backdrop of Uganda’s political instability of the 1970’s. Ssempa is a business man who plies the Uganda- Rwanda route for his trade. On one of these trips back to Uganda, he meets Julia, a Munyanrwanda woman who grew up in Uganda as a refugee. Julia’s uncle is a friend to Ssempa, and it’s through him that the two meet. The journey turns out to be very chaotic, they end up spending a night in Kabale and that is where their love story begins.
Until then, Ssempa who is a crafty business man, has been a philanderer dating many women, including the married ones. However, in Julia, he finally finds love and fulfillment. But their love is forbidden, for Julia is a bride of God, something Ssempa knows can only mean trouble:
“I hate myself for destroying your life-even if it is a life of such solitude…………..destruction is bound to come in the long run however discreet we shall be……………….”
“We are in a world where even love must be pegged on imported, false malicious faiths.”
Julia leaves the convent when she falls pregnant. Her church is against her relationship while the mosque is pushing for Ssempa to wed Julia. He is even offered a lot of money and other enticements if he does wed the nun. And though he indeed wishes to marry Julia, Ssempa knows this will only hurt her in the end – the very last thing he wishes to do.
The author’s talent is evident in the way he keeps the reader in suspense and intrigue all through. Some scenes are really chilling- the way Ssempa narrowly survives death many times will surely give one an adrenaline rush.
And given how things turn out for Ssempa and Julia, it is, perhaps, not a surprise at all that their son grows up into a prophet who is against religious sects.