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Abyssinian Chronicles

3.54  ·  Rating details ·  699 ratings  ·  61 reviews
An extraordinary African saga about life and death in Uganda, a coming of age story of a boy and of a country.
Paperback, 512 pages
Published August 1st 2001 by Pan MacMillan (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.54  · 
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Harry Rutherford
Ive just finished Abyssinian Chronicles. Which is a bit of a relief, because I found it quite hard work. The good stuff first: its a story that traces a couple of generations through the history of modern Uganda, with the arrival of Idi Amin and the collapse of his regime, the sequence of messy guerilla wars, the rise of AIDS and so on. The central character is initially brought up in a village before moving to Kampala, is from a Catholic background and is educated in a rather brutal seminary; ...more
Elliott Steixner
Feb 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
I would like to start off by saying that my feelings about this book are rather mixed.

It is the story of Mugezi, born in Uganda and growing up in and around Kampala during its most turbulent times. We accompany Mugezi through war, disease and dictatorship. On the whole, it's an interesting topic, but unfortunately, I found that the characterization and the style took away from the story rather than add to it.

It's a 500 page book that could easily have said the same in half the time. Simply put,
Sep 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Moses Isegawa's riveting first novel, the writing is big, but the story is even bigger. It is a coming of age chronicle of post-colonial Ugandan history, as told by the narrator, who is also coming of age, Mugezi. Isegawa candidly touches on many subjects: Obote, Idi Amin, civil wars, corruption, rapes, religion, party politics, the AIDS epidemic, culture, tradition, morals, and community folklore. While much of the novel contains serious subject matter, humorous sections are abundant, and I ...more
Dora Okeyo
Dec 09, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would listen to Mugezi, the narrator of the Abyssinian Chronicles, over and over like the sound in my head when I'm at peace and in turmoil.

The story begins in Uganda and ends in Amsterdam- but it is not about the geographical locations, it is about the events and experiences that shape Mugezi's life. The choices he makes, the women in his life and how religion, war, corruption influence his quest for both identity and belonging.

The book is not one to be read at a sitting and it takes time to
Opening sentence - Three final images flashed across Serenity's mind as he disappeared into the jaws of the colossal crocodile: a rotting buffalo with rivers of maggots and armies of flies emanating from its cavities; the aunt of his missing wife, who was also his longtime lover; and the mysterious woman who had cured his childhood obsession with tall women.

There is no reference as to whom the translator might be, neither is there a dedication.

halfway mark and I must remark on a few thoughts so
Jun 05, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This was billed as the Great Ugandan Novel and reviewers kept comparing Isegawa to Rushdie and Marquez. Not so, my friends. There are enough technical issues with the writing that it took me fifty pages in to really figure out who was who, and another hundred to give a shit at all. I mean, it may still be the Great Ugandan Novel - and it certainly shares the national family epic genre with Rushdie and Marquez - but so far it's more of a mildly scatological Bildungsroman. Still interesting - but ...more
Epic novel with lots of characters, which can be confusing at the beginning. I was confused. Who is the main character and how does he know so much about other characters if he hadn't even been born yet? Learned a lot about the period of rule for Idi Amin & Obate, the 1970s & 80s, of Indians & Europeans in Uganda, as well as a critique of religion (Protestantism and Catholicism vie with Islam), especially as related to colonialism. Then AIDS.

At times, the author tried to tell
Fred Rose
Mar 30, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literature, africa
Couldn't finish this. I read it on a trip to Uganda but it just didn't make sense. The story and characters just didn't hold my interest. I made it halfway and just couldn't work up any interest to finish.
Ciaran Monaghan
I was becoming more convinced that the afterbirth of war was in a ways worse than the actual fighting itself, and that winning the peace was harder than winning the war

The above quote represents one of my key takeaways from this and a lot of the other 'around-the-world' stuff I have read this year. You would think that the good times would come with the end of war, dictatorship etc. but the winning side is often likely to repeat the same offences they were fighting against, taking an eye for an
Keti Kerashvili
This would have been an amazing novel, if it didn't have a number of shortcomings. It touches a number of thought provoking topics and very interestingly relays the history of the country. However, the writing drags at times and is too superfluous at others. He intrigues and grips the reader, but then drops the ball. Besides, in some parts, the story packed with too many characters lacks the coordination. All in all, with more editing it would have been an amazing read.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book by a Ugandan author needed a good editor. It's almost two or three different books, one outstanding, the other, not. Mugezi grew up as a child unwanted by his mother and ignored by his father, who leave him with his grandfather and aunt when they move to Kampala. We follow him through his childhood, adolescence and adulthood, as we follow the civil unrest and wars in Uganda. And the destruction of the AIDS epidemic. Not much joy in this largely well written novel.

Katie Hurlbut
Oct 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book took a while to get into. The writing is verbose and thick with metaphors. It was worth it. Isegawa has written a bildungsroman with a brilliant, unforgettable voice and a history of Uganda in the second half of the 20th century. If you loved Namwali Serpell's The Old Drift and want to stay in east/central Africa -- this is a good choice!
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really, really enjoyed this book, but it took me weeks to get through it. Not sure why but it dragged a bit for me. Completely my fault and not the books fault, as the writing is great, the characters are relatable, and the story line is interesting, and of a time and place that I don't normally read, but is very interesting, and an area that should have more written about it.
Interesting but felt a little dragged out at parts. Treatment of women by men and society is backwards and uncomfortable.

"[D]o whatever you want in life ... but know when it is over. And never bicker about the price."
Jan 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
First class lesson on Uganda's history following independence.
I find the last bit of the book (Mugezi's story after his stint in the army) too rushed, and also did not quite get where he got married and divorced, as is mentioned on the blurb...

Oct 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Uneven stream of consciousness, informative but uncompelling.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm from Uganda so you can imagine reading what I know m, it was a drag.. jeez but good
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating book that reveals modern history and cultural features of Uganda. I really enjoyed.
May 28, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Katherine by: World Affairs Council Book Club
I didn't anticipate I would take so long to read this book, but ultimately it did take me six months to get through it.

It wasn't that the story wasn't fascinating - a saga of a family in Uganda - I believe it was the writing style. The writing could be too descriptive at some points and at others it felt there were too many sentences to describe one point that it became a little too much to bear. In any case, this was not a page-turner YET every time I would pick it up, I was curious about the
Daniel Simmons
A crazyquilt of familial and political storytelling that adds up to... what, exactly? Isegawa offers up some great set pieces (the chapter on main character Mugezi's seminary schooling is a particular highlight), but I found myself grasping at straws for a sense of the author's overall plan. Or IS there a plan? Example: a variety of characters fall victim to gruesome encounters with wild animals (a puff adder, a buffalo, a crocodile)... for what purpose? To emphasize the randomness of fate? ...more
Nov 24, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-literature
*** and 1/2 is my actual rating. This is a generational story about a Catholic Ugandan family. Mugezi takes us through his childhood being raised by a cruel religious fanatic mother, his days in seminary where abuse of power persisted, life during the Amin torturous regime, guerilla warfare and Aids, all taking away people precious to him. I found turning to a map of Uganda while reading gave me a sense of place (smart phone worked great!)

Recognizing that the author, Moses Isegawa, is writing in
Oct 21, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sample from Isegawa's literature - "given an ear, her mouth loosened and grief flowed out with the sinuousness of a sloughing serpent". Isegawa's words flow somewhat similarly. For a debut novel, he puts up a magnificent show of how he can write, and write he can. But somewhere along the narrative, Isegawa loses his vision. What started off as a brilliant analogy between the protagonist's own small world and Amin's larger than life times, soon degrades into a narrative of everything and ...more
Martyn F
Jul 29, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It's different than other books. And that's good in this case. It's interesting from a historical point of view. The characters are also interesting. There are a lot of them, though. And some turn up to never be heard from again.

Moses Isegawa is brutally honest. Describes everything from children bleeding out to rape and murder. Sometimes he repeats himself. And his story is not exactly fast paced.

The main thing that lacked for me, I think, is that this is not so much a story as a life described
May 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-tour, temp
"Abyssinian Chronicles" is the chronicle of a family and of Uganda, with power struggles, disasters and small triumphs. It is well conceived and tells the interlocking stories of family and country in an interesting way.
The only problem is that the author is a little bit too much in love with the English language and what he can do with it; he has a simile for everything. It gets a little wearing to read after a while, unless you share his love of reveling in every image like a flea-bitten dog
Dec 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Abyssinian Chronicles picks up steam after the first book, with humorous confrontations between Mugezi and authority figures, and rumbles along for the next four hundred pages. The writing is peppered with evocative phrases and paragraphs, many of which shine brighter when the reader knows something about Uganda. Transitions between the bildungsroman and the national context become more seamless as the novel progresses and, happily, Isegawa avoids just shaping his characters around historical ...more
Jan 07, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read books about modern Africa trying to figure out how humans survive lives so filled with losses. Uganda's history is so gruesome that I was halfway through this book before I realized that there was, after all, some humor. Humor and a resilience that I fear has been bred out of America's gene pool.
Isegawa's writing is wonderfully colorful, packed with seemingly effortless similies and metaphors that would have earned A+ from Mrs. Adamson, my high school senior comp. teacher.
Book #23 of 2008. Traces the chaotic life of Mugezi, a guy growing up in Uganda, from the end of colonialism through the reign of Idi Amin and rebel government after rebel government, into the era of AIDS. I was struck by the ways in which the various elements of Ugandan society needed to transform themselves, and how often, in order to survive the latest crisis. Powerful, if a bit dry and dull in spots.
May 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Excellent took a trip through Uganda from the 60's through to the 80's following the story of the narrator Mugezi his coming of age story during the time of Idi Amin's reign and fall.
This book will have you literally laughing out loud well it did with me anyway and then next minute it will move you to tears.
This is Moses Isegawa's first novel and it is very impressive so much so I was sad when it came to the end, I will definitely be reading more from this author.
Dec 29, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great portrayal of life in Uganda, capturing well the chaos and serenity that wash like waves over the actions of people each day. The book also provides valuable insights into what life was like under Idi Amin's rule. The story however lacked heart, humor, compassion and love. I feel there is much hope and optimism embodied in the Ugandan culture and people and no account can be considered complete without capturing this spirit.
J. Trott
This book features a cunning hero who bounces through life with gentle attention to his dick and stomach, and generally a laize faire attitude toward everything else, including his country, Uganda, which is getting ripped apart by Abote and Amin. While he's not super likable to me he taught me a lot about the survivalist values of a Ugandan.
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Moses Isegawa, also known as Sey Wava (born 10 August 1963), is a Ugandan author. He has written novels set against the political turmoil of Uganda, which he left in 1990 for the Netherlands. His debut novel, Abyssinian Chronicles, was first published in Amsterdam in 1998, selling more than 100,000 copies and gaining him widespread national attention. It was also very well reviewed when published ...more

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