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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Book Review

Title: Pale Souls Abroad and other tales
Author: Ulysses Chuka Kibuuka
Publisher: Fountain Publishers Ltd.
Reviewer: Dennis D. Muhumuza

It is a collection of seven stories in 218 pages that will crack you up and hold your interest to the last word. Kibuuka writes a tale-twister that leaves you laughing at yourself for having no clue some of the stories will end the way they do.

Stupor for example is a story of a respected banker who takes a stranded woman to a lodge and they revel and have sex only for him to wake up and find her dead. Panic sets in as he tries to hide the body. What makes it unforgettable is that the reader, like the protagonist, thinks Nyugunyu is truly dead only to discover at the end she had just fainted badly, as she is met going to church with other women while joking about the "buffoon" of a man that thought her dead.

In High Protocol, a lustful man is given his corrupt master's "jet-black Mercedes 500SEL" to go pick Maria who has just flown in first-class from California. The driver can't wait to meet the boss's beautiful daughter. Much to his disappointment, he finds out that Maria is a cat!

Kibuuka's descriptive power is admirable. In The Naked Womb, one cannot forget the three-year old homeless girl "trudging like an aged woman on the village path, the skin and hair yellowed like bronze from kwashiorkor, a distended abdomen and a thick host of flies, mostly bluebottles –blanketing her eyes in two dark silvery-blue circles and other hordes of the ugly insects burrowing in and out of her ears and nostrils like bees on a hive."

Or the Russian woman who is "very pretty with a compact body, packed like coiled dynamo wires."

The stories are filled with fleeting incidents: a man making love to a ghost without knowing it, an old man that "kneads his own shit into the cassava flour to make bait" while on a fishing spree and the woman that had "the nasty habit of losing control of her bowels during orgasm," to mention a few.

It's absurd comedy and upon deep reflection you realise the author hides behind that to bemoan a rotten society teeming with moral corruption, men raping their house girls, medical students abetting abortion, leaders running down the economy, drug-dealing and evil humour like in that anecdote of Banamba's car with seatbelts interwoven with hypodermic needles "that suck the passenger's blood, which Banamba then sells off in gallonfuls to European markets" and all the ill deeds that continue to befoul contemporary society.

The writer is especially critical of western influence and highly patronising, pretentious, selfish and dangerously ambitious individuals.

His knowledge of the country's diverse ethnicities and cultures is intact as presented in the conflict between modernity and tradition.

Kibuuka is arguably Uganda's only existential writer and is the author of other works like For the Fairest and Of Saints and Scarecrows.

--Sunday Monitor, March 30, 2008