Although described on its cover as “a novel of Uganda at war”, Waiting will surprise readers expecting another litany of excesses of the Last King of Scotland kind. While not shying away from the violence of the war to overthrow Idi Amin, Goretti Kyomuhendo’s third novel is primarily a sensitive, slowly unravelling observation of daily life in a remote Ugandan village as Amin’s marauding soldiers approach on their retreat north.
Thirteen-year-old Alinda has had to take over the running of the household from her heavily pregnant mother, caring for her disobedient siblings and trying to please a distant father. Her narrative voice, though cool and precociously calm, is shot through with tension as the otherwise invisible war begins to intrude.
We share Alinda’s bewilderment and fears for the future when the soldiers finally arrive and cause her mother’s death in childbirth.
The focus stays tightly on Alinda’s interior monologue and the interplay between the effects of war and her growing awareness of her own femininity. The dialogue is often clumsy when broader themes, such as Amin’s manipulation of ethnic divisions, are discussed; and the ending leaves questions unanswered. But that is perhaps inevitable in a novel about waiting for the end of a conflict and the beginning of adulthood.