This interlinked story collection by Uganda-born, Stateside MFA-ed Doreen Baingana is a family affair that explores the lives of three sisters, their diverse paths, and their eventual return home. The two bookended stories introduce the family in the opening “Green Stones,” only to end with a much changed configuration of residents in the same house years later in “Questions of Home.” In between, the sisters grow up, move away, and make irrevocable choices …
In the Entebbe home of their youth, Christine, Rosa, and Patti witness the debauched, shameful disintegration of their once-powerful, internationally peripatetic businessman father. Their waiting mother, whose adoration for her husband turns to anger and disgust, endures. Each sister suffers through boarding school: Patti deals with the humiliation of constant hunger in “Hunger,” and Rosa learns the true meaning of ‘passion’ from a less-than-respected literature teacher in “Passion.”
Christine – who emerges as the primary narrator – recalls a disconnected affair with a Caucasian ex-pat living a far more luxurious life that he could ever have had back home in “Tropical Fish,” then explores her own American dream in “Lost in Los Angeles” where she learns to stop giving geography lessons to those too myopic to identify a country called Uganda. Christine’s reverse commute back to Entebbe eight years later in the final “Questions of Home” proves both jarring and familiar.
Set in the tumultuous time following the ouster of Idi Amin (who terrorized Uganda from 1971 to 1979), amidst the delicate reconstruction of a country in flux, Baingana creates an unflinching portrait of four women, who each claim their independence in different ways, but eventually come back together – much changed, one missing – to be a family once again.
Beyond Baingana’s well-deserved initial success – including the 2003 AWP Award Series in Short Fiction from the all-encompassing literary organization Association of Writers & Writing Programs, and the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in Africa – Fish remains her single title. The prowess of that debut, however, should ensure that she is an international writer to watch with great anticipation. Anyone with a direct line to her … do please tell her that her public is waiting, waiting, waiting!
Tidbit: Tropical Fish remains very much in the news! The collection was recently chosen as the Port Harcourt, Nigeria-based Rainbow Book Club pick-of-the-month. Doreen Baingana will be reading in Port Harcourt at the Le Meridien Hotel, Ogeyi Palace tomorrow, February 19, 2012 at 4 p.m.! Wish I could be there!
Published: 2005, 2006 (new paperback edition with additional preface and discussion guide)