First published in 1994 by Femrite Publications Ltd, The Invisible Weevil is Mary Karooro Okurut’s fourth book. Okurut, who is currently a Ugandan politician, is also celebrated columnist, former literature lecturer, and the founder of Uganda Women Writers Association.
Set in Uganda, the plot centers on the country’s tragic political regimes, illustrated by thinly disguised former presidents like Opolo, Duduma, Polle and Kazi. It also covers social genre and gender issues, and how these have changed throughout generations as seen through the main characters’ story- Nkwanzi and Genesis. Nkwanzi is portrayed as a very intelligent and determined girl, always questioning the traditional and social injustice women face. On the other hand, Genesis is kind but easily swayed away from his principles.
Whenever Nkwanzi is in some kind of trouble, Genesis always comes to her rescue. Call it fate but it looks like he is set to be her guardian angel for the rest of her life. After one rescue mission, he comments that “……….my, I am always rescuing you. It seems you might need me around for the rest of your life”.
The story revolves around them. Their country changes as they grow up, to the point that by the time they go to University, the situation is way out of control under the President Duduma’s rule.
Despite the challenges the two face, their love for each other keeps them together, and they join the underground forces to overthrow the dictatorial and violent government.
One would hope that eventually these challenges fade away, but instead more trials come their way. Nkwanzi is raped on the morning of her a wedding day, which shatters her dreams as she had reserved herself especially for Genesis. But they overcome this, have a lovely daughter. More problems come up when Nkwanzi is promoted to Deputy Minister in President Kazi’s government. This job takes so much of her time; Genesis feels neglected and gets a mistress. In the end he loses his life.
The author covers a lot of issues in the story, weaving them together in humorous yet simple English. The centre image of the novel is the weevil. A weevil is a small insect that damages stored grain. It usually attacks from inside, by the time the damage is detected, it is too late to save the victim. The author uses this symbol to depict the crooked governments Uganda has had; and she uses it still to depict the impact of HIV-AIDS on the country – particularly the way the disease ravaged many families at a time Uganda was starting to emerge from years of political turmoil.
Okurut’s The Invisible Weevil is a good read, but some characters just seem to “disappear” within the story. I just kept on wondering what their fate was.