Book Review: Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.


Review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

An ambitious and assured collection of short stories from the internationally acclaimed author of Kintu.

If there’s one thing the characters in Jennifer Makumbi’s stories know, it’s how to field a question.

‘Let me buy you a cup of tea… what are you doing in England?’

‘Do these children of yours speak any Luganda?’

‘Did you know that man Idi Amin?’

But perhaps the most difficult question of all is the one they ask themselves: ‘You mean this is England?’

Told with empathy, humour and compassion, these vibrant, kaleidoscopic stories re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this dazzling, polyphonic collection will captivate anyone who has ever wondered what it means to truly belong.

My review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

After reading A girl is a body of water, I totally fell in love with Makumbi’s writing. And it’s easy for anyone to really adore her style because of its originality. Makumbi tells stories about Uganda in the most beautiful way that makes you see the country through her eyes, and learn of the people’s struggles, cultures, languages and lifestyle.

Manchester Happened is a collection of twelve beautiful stories which narrates the ordeals of Ugandans in diaspora. These are people who leave Uganda in search of greener pastures, but through the stories, we learn that the pastures might not really be greener on the other side as people believe. Makumbi reveals the struggles and existential crisis Ugandans who migrate to the United Kingdom in the 1980’s experience, and this is something peculiar with Africans in general.

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The book is divided into two sections; Departing and Returning. The former focuses on the stories of Ugandans who live in the United Kingdom, while the latter tells the stories from Uganda, about the people who have returned home.

In the Prologue, Christmas is coming, a thirteen year old boy, Luzinda, would nurse the thoughts of returning to Uganda, because according to him, God is in Uganda, and if they are there, everything will be okay. He despises Manchester and what his family has become. And he especially hates Christmas, because the demon in his house breaks loose on Christmas day.

Review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

This story is one of my favorites because I felt for the poor boy while reading it. In Manchester, it is difficult to be human first before being black. And as if it is not enough he’ll have to struggle with accepting his identity, his home is hellish too. No one understands him or makes effort to. His mother is more concerned about eating Christmas as if it’s some kind of meal, and visiting other Ugandan homes, than finding out what he really wants, or making their home a happy place.

His father too doesn’t have a say in the affairs of the home, as he directs him to his mum whenever he has any complaints. And when he files a report to the child protection services, they only ask him if his father is abusive and never his mother, and he wonders why. Why is it that no one ever suspects the woman when a case of abuse is being reported? Why is it always the man? A woman is also capable of being abusive, but everyone suspects the man, even though he might be a victim of abuse and is afraid to speak up, because no one would believe him.

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In Manchester Happened, a young girl would be sent to Manchester at the age of sixteen to make money and better her future and that of her family. And it doesn’t matter if she’s still so tender to survive in a foreign country with no adult to depend on for guidance. What matters is that she makes money and sends home to her family. And that is where Africans get it wrong.

They think money grows on trees in the overseas and once you’re lucky enough to be granted a visa to cross to the other side, then you’d become a millionaire overnight. But it’s a wrong notion. People come to the overseas and do menial jobs and work their asses off. Some end up in mental institutions, some, deported, others in jail. The grass is not really as green as most people think it is.

Review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

And when her fourteen year old younger sister comes to join her in Manchester, she expects to be treated like a princess because she has come to Manchester where money grows on trees. But to her utmost surprise, Manchester isn’t the heaven she thinks it is, and she, too, faces a huge existential crisis that makes her fight with her sister, to the extent they go their separate ways and never talk to each other again for years.

In The Nod, a young girl would learn that in a foreign land like the United Kingdom, when you go for occasions, your eyes would search for people with similar skin color, your people, and you will give them an approving nod, that you are there together with them. And it doesn’t matter if they are not from your country or your part of the continent, but because you guys share the same skin color, then you’re their sista, and you nod approvingly to them, telling them that no matter how hard the owners of the country treat you and your kind, that you acknowledge them, and that you all matter.

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She is our stupid is a story about a young woman, who comes home from England with streaks of insanity. Nobody knows her story and her struggles and how hard life treated her prior to her return to the motherland. This story exposes the ugly side of migration. Everyone leaves their country in high hopes, but what about the consequences, the struggles, the mental stress. Will you be able to cope?

Review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

Let’s tell this story properly is a story about a woman, Nnam, whose husband dies unexpectedly and upon her return to Uganda for the funeral, finds out about his other wife and kids. She is devastated beyond words because she doesn’t understand why her husband will treat her that way, why her marriage has to be a lie. She is legally married to her husband and doesn’t know he married her just to suck her wealth dry. He takes Nnam’s money and sends to his family in Uganda and also visits them from time to time without his wife’s knowledge.

This book explains how Africans live in a place away from home. Surviving in the United Kingdom is so difficult that some people renounce their African roots just to blend. It is a jungle out there and not everyone cares about similar roots or backgrounds. Just because you see a fellow Ugandan who speaks your language, doesn’t mean he will receive you with a hug and a kiss.

People do all sorts of menial jobs just to feed, and illegal immigrants hold their breaths whenever they see a police van, for fear of being deported. People get depressed and lose their minds just because they’re struggling to eke out a living and prove to their families in Uganda that the grass is indeed greener in the foreign land.

Review of Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

This book exposes the sufferings, the racism, the segregation Africans in diaspora endure. People are not even conscious of their race, till they go to a foreign country, where they are being segregated on the basis of their race and skin color.

This is a beautiful book, however, I didn’t really enjoy some of the stories, because they were boring to me. But in all, it’s a great book. And one thing I love about Makumbi is how she exposes us to a world of Ugandan language, expressions and culture. I love how she unapologetically uses Ugandan words and expressions, how she maintains originality, as she tells the African stories. I’ll rate it as 4. 5/5.

Have you read the book? What do you think about it? Please share your thoughts with me in the comment section. Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter, follow me on all social media platforms and share with your friends. Thank you for visiting Bookish Pixie.

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Makumbi.
Manchester Happened by Jennifer Makumbi.

19 thoughts on “Book Review: Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.”

  1. I read about Jennifer Makumbi in Literary Hub last year. The article says she’s a good author. And the book you’re reviewing sounds awesome. I should read some of her books too. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Jennifer is my fav author, loved her after reading The first woman, Kintu and then currently im reading Manchster Happened. Very good review and I love the stories and how she richly tells them. Next i have to read A girl is a body of water.


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