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Abyssinian Chronicles: A Novel Paperback – November 13, 2001

4 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his hugely impressive Abyssinian Chronicles Moses Isegawa renders the chaotic swirl of life in Uganda, from a lazy, remote village to the urban rush of Kampala. Containing within its 460 pages weddings, funerals, infidelities, public struggles with corrupt dictatorships (a section called "Amin, the Godfather"), and private struggles with God ("Seminary Years"), this is a first novel of epic ambitions. Narrated by Mugezi, the son of a man named Serenity and a woman named Padlock, Isegawa's book is wild and decentered, moving swiftly and confidently from place to place, from character to character. It is the kind of book that says, just follow, trust me, all these names and passions will sort themselves out and make sense sooner or later.

The prose itself bristles and cooks, with graceful transitions ("This time a year passed without hearing any news from Tiida") and scenes lurching with activity. Isegawa, who was born in Uganda but now lives in the Netherlands, is a master of unexpected verbs and details. Here Mugezi describes his mother's voice:

This woman knew how to irritate me on all fronts: her pathetic country-western girlie whine, xeroxed from a white nun from her convent days, the same nun from whom she had inherited the little tremolos which she sprinkled piously on the last hymn every night, really got to me.
Inconsistencies in the narrator's point of view can mar this novel and arrest its progress. The narrator will suddenly describe interior states he couldn't possibly know about: his mother's depression and loneliness, which she hides from everyone, the deepest thoughts of distant relatives. But for readers hoping to glimpse a foreign world, these bumps in the road are worth the ride. --Ellen Williams --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Abyssinia may have become present-day Ethiopia, but the title of Isegawa's debut actually refers to UgandaAa "land of false bottoms where under every abyss there was another one waiting to ensnare people." Set in the postcolonial 1970s and '80s, when power struggles are the order of the day, the book is a bildungsroman following the life of narrator Mugezi Muwaabi, as he plots his own independence from tyrannical rulers (his parents) and capitalizes on his considerable natural resources of charm and intelligence. Isegawa clearly means for Mugezi's story to parallel Uganda's, so he devotes much of the book to an almost journalistic account of national politicsAGeneral Idi Amin's rise to power, and his subsequent ouster at the hands of deposed president Milton Obote. But apart from the intended echoes, these passages have little direct bearing on Mugezi's life, and sap the narrative of momentum and vitality. The novel is strongest when it concentrates on Mugezi's antics: he torments his mother by stealing the bobbin from her sewing machine, and breaks the will of one strict priest by smearing excrement on his treasured car. These and other scenes create a coming-of-age story that traces the shifting balance of power in any relationship. Isegawa's language is overheated at times, but it also yields gems, as when Mugezi's grandfather asks for a shave: "The razor crackled and filled with stubble as I dragged it across valleys and ridges. Birds chirped fussily in the tallest gray-skinned mtuba trees. They jumped up and down on one branch." Such keen observations go further toward depicting Uganda than the dry history lessons, but luckily there are many gorgeous passages throughout to offset the distancing effect of Isegawa's sometimes overextended reach. (June) FYI: A Ugandan native, Isegawa is now a Dutch citizen living in Amsterdam. This book was originally published in the Netherlands in 1998.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 13, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375705775
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375705779
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #891,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. F Malysiak on July 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps the definitive African novel of our generation ... a story that traces the lives and tragedies of a Ugandan family from the sixties through present time. While the first half of the novel reads somewhat like a Dickensian novel, chronicling the oftentimes abusive youth and adolescence of the book's central protagonist, the second half reads more like a history of this African nation, with vivid often horrifying descriptions of the chaos and senseless violence that took place during Idi Amin's regime and subsequent overthrow. For this reader, however, the book's most effective passages detail the devastating impact of AIDS in Uganda in the mid to late 1980's, especially as it affects the lives of the novel's central family.
I hesitate to give this book a full five star rating only because I found the last chapter, which brings our "hero" to Amsterdam, lacking in the dramatic urgency of all that's come before, culminating in what was for me a rather weak and disappointing ending. Otherwise, I would rank this as among the best books I've read in the past several years.
Kudos also to the book's translator. Originally written in Dutch, this translation reads as smoothly and effortlessly as if English was it's original language.
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Format: Paperback
I started reading this book at 9:00 am this morning and finished it 12 hours later, no one could pull me away from this gem! What a wonderfully written book... if one doesn't know much about Africa and the political, cultural, religious conflicts that are so much a part of my continent, then this book is for you. Make no mistake, though, this is no boring, uncaptivating book, it is extremely entertaining, yet also very informative. At times I found myself laughing out loud and re-reading passages over and over again, at other times, I felt a cold shiver creep down my spine, reminding me of the Ugandans I met when I was growing up in Africa and recounting the horrirific stories they told me. If you are to buy just one book in 2002, let it be this one. Be warned, though, when you pick it up to read, make sure it is on a day when you have nothing else scheduled to do. You will NOT be able to put it down. Moses Isegawa is a marvelous writer, I cannot wait to see what he will come up with next. This is the kind of book that deserves the Booker Prize....but then again, that's all political...isn't it?
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Format: Hardcover
There are some authors whose books I feel compelled to read: Saul Bellow, Garcia-Marquez, Isabelle Allende are examples- the writing is so immediate and beautiful. To this group I am adding Moses Isegawa. His story is fascinating- I take it that this is autobiographical. He understands life in terms of power struggles- first his Edenic existence with his grandparents, particularly his midwife grandma, whom he assisted; then his life with troubled and tyrannical parents, school bullies, an oppressive stint at Catholic boarding school, later adventures in business, avoiding trouble during the Amin years, subsequent emigration to Europe. At every turn there is someone trying to thwart him and whom he outsmarts with stealth and patience. There are a host of eccentric characters and natural disasters to be coped with. The customs of Uganda are so different from what we Americans are used to, yet the author conveys how the people are so like us in feelings and motivation. He might be called cynical, but it's just reality that he describes - and he is likeable. The writing is superb. The idiom seems American- do they really talk like us over there? How does he do that? I enjoyed this book as much as Bellows' whose midwestern Jewish background I share.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a must read before travel to Uganda. It contains wonderful character development and provides a learning experience about life in Uganda and its history. Written from a Ugandan perspective. I read this book and the Brandt travel guide on Uganda before a 8/04 trip to Uganda and was enthralled with both. Much better than "Gravity of Sunlight". Read Abyssinian and be prepared for hours of fascinating people, culture and history.
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Format: Hardcover
Moses Isegawa knows how to catch a reader with a powerful first paragraph; While dissapearing into the jaws of a crocodile, a man remembers three things, and with the capricious nature of memory, those three things are very different from each other. Why the image of the rotting corpse of an ox (maggots and all, showing the reader, from page one, what a dexterous novelist Moses Isegawa is) would have a place next to the face of one beloved? The protagonists' memories are the answer. This is a novel narrated by remembrance, punctuated by glimpses so sensual (the ambience of the coffee plantation of Grandfather when it goes to seed, for example) that the vividness of this novel is in close league to the stories of Gabriel García Márquez, of Salman Rushdie and of Juan Rulfo. It belongs with them too, in the sense of how the magical is interwoven with the historical; we knew of the history of Colombia, of India, of México, and in this case of Uganda, trough the fantastic realities created in these novels, where the historical was more unbelievable than the magical. The lushness, the cruelty, the outrageous, all combine seamlessly in a language so terse and beautiful that the reader will be dazzled.
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