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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shining like gems in the dirt of poverty


You return home one evening to find an old boy with whom you went to school has invaded your house.

It’s been years but he says nothing about how he located your house or the reason for his visit. Days turn into weeks and months, and your uninvited guest, without shame, says he’s still waiting for the Holy Spirit to tell him when to leave.

We are talking of an eccentric, arrogant, impatient character, a man thrice your size, height and weight. He swigs your special wine, and worst of all has “an insatiable appetite of a cockroach.”
Crazy it may sound but that’s the plot of Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo’s A Visitor Without a Mission.

Set in Kabale, the 189-page novel is, on the surface, about a pseudo born-again Christian whose conduct tests the limits of the patience of the gentlest of the gentlemen.

The author criticises the greed, corruption, deceit and the ostentation by “a few citizens who shine like gems in the mud and dirt of poverty.” The rapid, witty exchanges between the four main characters reveal much about a rotten and hopeless society, where the rich turn to dirty dealings in the fear of falling from the heights of wealth to the depth of poverty; while the impoverished spend sleepless nights cursing their poor lots in life.

The writer has closely observed the society he presents in this work of fiction, and hooks the reader with bouts of humour and the masterful presentation of Livingston (Livvie) as a conceited fellow most of us hate to deal with.

The conflict between Nathan (Nat) – the narrator, and Livvie, is quite dramatic. Nat presses all the buttons to establish Livvie’s mission but much to his chagrin, his visitor keeps evading him with devilish cunningness.

Livvie justifies his manic love of wine, claiming the first miracle Jesus Christ made was turning water into wine. This drama is even captured on the book cover, showing him reclining in a sofa with a bottle of wine and a Bible resting on the nearby table.

The author’s strength lies in his powerful reliance on dialogue to keep the reader entertained. That makes A Visitor Without a Mission far different from the many Ugandan novels I’ve read.
In fact, his style is reminiscent of Oscar Wilde’s, especially in the use of satire and pithy dialogue, and Richard Wright’s Lawd Today, as in the loquaciousness of his protagonists. Godfrey Mwene Kalimugogo is also the author of Dare to Die (1972), The Pulse of the Woods (1973), Trials and Tribulations in Sandu’s Home (1974), Pilgrimage to Nowhere (1974), The Department (1975), The Prodigal Chairman (1980), and Sandu the Prince (1984).

--Sunday Monitor, April 26, 2009