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Manchester Happened

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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.

306 pages, Hardcover

First published May 23, 2019

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About the author

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

5 books706 followers
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a Ugandan novelist and short story writer, has a PhD from Lancaster University. She is a lecturer in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and lives in Manchester with her husband Damian and son Jordan.

Her first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani Manuscript Prize in 2013 and was longlisted for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature. Her story Let's Tell This Story Properly won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In 2018 she was awarded a Windham-Campbell Prize in the fiction category. In 2021, her novel The First Woman won the Jhalak Prize.

Makumbi's writing is largely based on oral traditions. She realised that oral traditions were so broad and would be able to frame all her writing regardless of subject, form or genre. She has said she "noticed that using oral forms which were normally perceived as trite and 'tired' brought, ironically, a certain depth to a piece that I could not explain."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 153 reviews
Profile Image for BookOfCinz.
1,376 reviews2,168 followers
May 23, 2021
How do I put into words how this collection of stories made me feel? This book absolutely stole my heart and its now one of my all time favourite books. WOW.

In Jennifer Makumbi’s collection of stories, Manchester Happened we meet Ugandans who journey to England, specifically Manchester to make a life for themselves. The collection is separated into two sections, the first journeys with those who decided to leave and the second section takes us on a trip back with the characters who decided to visit Uganda after spending a significant amount of time in the UK. While we all know that everyone’s immigration story is different, Jennifer Makumbi was able to give the readers a diverse and nuance look with these twelve stories.

Of twelve stories, my standouts where:
Our Allies the Colonies
Manchester Happened
Something Inside So Strong
Malik’s Door
My Brother, Bwemage
The Aftertaste of Success
Let’s Tell This Story Properly


Yes, yes, I know I basically listed out the entire table of contents but that is just how much I really enjoyed this collection. I really do enjoy stories that tells of the experience of those who leave their country, for whatever reason, to go a try and make a better life elsewhere. Makumbi treated their experience with compassion and vulnerability and that is why I felt so hard for this collection. Makumbi even included the point of view of a dog who got kidnapped from Uganda and was brought to Manchester- yes! That happened.

Themes of immigration, identity, racism, colonialism, colourism, fitting in, displacement, sadness, regret and shame are explored and done in a very layered way. I really appreciated that the author did not tell a one-dimensional story but something that really moved and stayed with you, after finishing the story. I particularly loved how realistic the depiction of the characters were.
Makumbi’s ability to write about how people perceive the UK and having that perception blown to pieces when they arrive really did it for me.

I honestly could go on and on about this collection, but I highly recommend you read it yourself. Trust me when I say, you will not be disappointed.
Profile Image for leynes.
1,064 reviews2,892 followers
March 29, 2021
I know ya'll wanted me to read Kintu by her first but I'm really not feeling fantasy at the moment. Manchester Happened is a wonderful short story collection dedicated to the "fearless Ugandans in the diaspora" about immigration, home, departing, and returning. Superbly written and very touching in parts. I'd highly recommend it!

And for those who have already enjoyed it, I'd recommend checking out Arimah's What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky or Gappah's An Elegy for Easterly: Stories. Makumbi's book really reminded me of these two short story collections.

Manchester Happened is split into two parts: "Departing" and "Returning". The first part is set in the UK, mainly in Manchester, whereas the latter half is set in Uganda, spanning a time period from the 1950s to our present day. The twelve stories in the collection have been written over the course of a year, one each month. Personally, I found the stories of "Departing" to be a bit stronger than the ones of "Returning", but overall, it is a fine collection about immigration, home, and all "the fearless Ugandans in the diaspora", to whom this collection is dedicated.

In "Our Allies the Colonies" (2 stars), Abbey Baker (optimistically named after Westminster Abbey and Samuel Baker) arrives in Manchester aboard a Dutch merchant ship in 1950. Makumbi imagines the life of this male African immigrant at that particular point in time – the bomb sites, double work shifts, dancing at the Merchant Navy Club, poor accommodation and everyday racism: "to be called ‘bongo bongo’ was okay but to hear Do those chaps still eat each other? or Even fellow blacks can’t stand them was crushing."

Abbey becomes entangled with a white British woman named Heather Newton, whom he had met at work. Even though she usually ignored him in front of her white co-workers, she asked him out one day, and Abbey showed her the typical "Black clubs" in Manchester. Their romance quickly turned sour when Heather doesn't show up for work one day and refuses to see Abbey again.

We also learn the source of these woes: Heather had fallen pregnant but given up the baby for adoption and Abbey isn't allowed to take the child back to Uganda with him.

The titular story, "Manchester Happened" (3,5 stars), is about Nnambassa, who is sent to London at age 16. Her father had studied in London as well and thought that "with British degrees, the world belonged to them." However, in 1988, Nnambassa finds it difficult to adapt. Makumbi describes the pitfalls faced by upwardly mobile Africans in search of a job in Britain: "with a name like Nnambassa the first interview was on the phone to weed out nightmarish accents. If the interviewer started saying, I didn’t catch what you said ... can you spell that word for me please, you knew you’d failed. So you swallowed your pride and applied to a nursing home."

However, Nnambassa finds it equally difficult to find a place within the Ugandan community in Manchester: "There was distrust and intrigue within the community. You had to be careful who you sought to network with on jobs, housing and visa issues. You had to be careful how much of yourself you put out there."

The main drive of the story is Nnambassa's rift with her younger sister Katassi (who was sent to Manchester to live with her but who after her teenage rebellion and the ensuing major fallout, the sisters haven't spoken to each other in years). It is their father's dying wish that the two reconcile.
Katassi was unprepared for that disgusted gaze that questioned your humanity, for white people sleeping rough in London, for white beggars on the streets (how can they give us aid when their own people are begging?), for the rough area we lived in in Salford, for burglars, for the fact that she was going to be poorer in Britain than she had been at home.
"The Nod" (3,5 stars) is the story about a Ugandan woman who meets a mixed Black woman named Brenda at a party, but forgets to give her "the nod" because she thought that Brenda was white, due to her very light complexion. What follows is a very tense and awkward conversation between the two, as Brenda approaches the protagonist and makes her feel guilty for the oversight.

"Memoirs of Namaaso" (3 stars) is by far the weirdest story in this collection as it is written from the POV of a dog, who, born in Uganda, through a series of misfortunes is taken to Britain and lives there for the rest of his days with two British owners. I was very skeptical at first because I hate animal POVs but somehow Makumbi made it work because the dog was hilarious as hell.

The first story of "Part 2: Returning" is called "She Is Our Stupid" (4 stars). It reminded me a lot of Petina Gappah's stort story An Elegy for Easterly, as it also deals with mental health and the pregnancy of a woman with mental health issues. In the story, we learn that Biira, the sister of the protagonist, is in reality her cousin, but since Biira's mother is "mad", she grew up as the child of her aunt.

"My Brother, Bwemage" (3 stars) is a story about two sisters and their mother who return home to Uganda for the sister's marriage. We learn that decades ago, the mother left their father amidst a scandal, as the father was cheating on her with another woman. So when the three return, tensions run high. To their shock, they also learn that their father had fathered a son with a Chinese woman. At its chore, it's a story about family dynamics and the particular traditional marriage rites of their people.

In "The Aftertaste of Success" (3 stars), Kitone finally returns to Uganda for good, after having spent 15 years in the UK. She finds it hard to adapt and to navigate her family's expectations for her. She doesn't wanna wear fake designer clothes and "play rich" for them. It's also a problem that she isn't married yet and that she doesn't have any children. When the parents of her friend (who is still in the UK) make her an offer because they lack grandchildren of their own to take care of, she ponders if it's too good to refuse.

In "Let's Tell This Story Properly" (2 stars), Nnam returns to Uganda to bury her husband. To her shock, she discovers that he has been keeping another wife and family there during his lifetime. Nnam suffers the ultimate betrayal and her bitterness is acute: "There's nothing more revolting than a corpse caught telling lies."

For me, the stand-out stories of the collection were the prologue "Christmas Is Coming", "Something Inside So Strong" and "Malik's Door", all of which I've rated 5 stars.

"Christmas Is Coming" is probably my favorite of the bunch. It was so gripping, captivating and touching. In the story, we learn that on the day of his birthday, when his parents had invited many of their friends to have a nice party, 11-year-old Luzinda had locked himself in his room and refused to open his presents. With Christmas drawing near, he is already dreading the next holiday. He goes to extreme lengths (like calling Child Protective Services on his parents) to avoid this holiday. All he wants is for his family to return to Uganda.
But here in Manchester, where God gave up a long time ago, grown-ups are out of control.
Throughout the story, the reader is irritated at Luzinda's behaviour. Why does this boy behave like such a brat? What is his problem? Therefore, the reveal at the end is all the more shocking. Also, the relationship between Luzinda and Bakka, and how the two of them team up to protect their parents, was very sweet and touching.

"Malik's Door" is about the undocumented immigrant Katula who sees marriage as her only possibility to stay in Britain and not be deported. She has hunted for men to no avail, when one day, by chance, she meets the handsome Malik at a bus stop. The two start dating and eventually Malik proposes to her. As he is Muslim, there are several conditions: Katula has to embrace Islam, wear a hijab, and take a Muslim name. Katula agrees but married life turns out more differently than she could've ever imagined as Malik, after their weeding, proceeds to ignore her and refuses to sleep in the same room as her.
Malik was at war with himself yet there was no room to say I know, or I understand. Or Let's talk about it. To think that she considered herself trapped. At least the door to her cell was open. Malik's was bolted from both inside and out.
And even though Makumbi never openly reveals what Malik's "problem" is, the reader can deduce that he is homosexual and has to keep his lovers a secret for fear of being harassed from his community. It's a beautiful story as Katula has a lot of love and understanding for Malik (and also appreciates the security this sham marriage gives her), but also realises that she cannot live in this lie any longer, that it is suffocating her. However, like most women who feel trapped in a relationship, she doesn't have the courage to leave, and so each time, "when he returns, she told herself; it is over: I am done."

"Something Inside So Strong" is the only story in this collection which is linked to another. These stories are about the woman Poonah who "had mastered that perfect combination of sheer hard work and stinting frugality that an immigrant with a deadline needed." The first of these stories, "Something Inside So Strong", opens in 2006 when Poonah works as an Aviation Security Officer at Manchester airport. She plans to train, find a job in social work, save and return home.

The ending of that story was so chilling. In the story, Poonah meets Nnamuli, the daughter of the family with which Poonah stayed as a teenager in Uganda, who is just starting her job at the airport. Poonah remembers how, one day, Nnamuli's mother kicked her out of their home (out of jealousy) which led Poonah to lead a very unstable life in Uganda, being dependent on a man and ultimately becoming pregnant from him, before being able to make the move to Britain. Poonah vows to get into Nnamuli's good graces only to make her pay for her past suffering. Poonah "decided to wait until Nnamuli trusted her entirely and then ask Do you know what happened to me that night?"

We meet her again in the final story of the collection, "Love Made in Manchester" (4 stars), where she has achieved her goal of becoming a social worker, but has in fact stayed in England. The story follows her as she comes along with her white friend Kayla who has married a Ugandan man, as their son plans to undergo the traditional circumcision rites of their culture. They are accompanied by multiple BBC media teams, as the story started out as a dare between the sons and his friends and has went viral.

Overall, Manchester Happened is a very multi-faceted collection that touches upon many important themes – racism, homophobia, sexism, mental health, immigration, a sense of belonging – and all of that in front of a unique British-Ugandan backdrop. Makumbi's language is clear and yet evocative. I cannot wait to read more from her!
Profile Image for Hannah.
583 reviews1,041 followers
June 6, 2019
I found this, sadly, highly uneven and fairly unimpressive. I adore short story collections but have fallen a bit out of the habit of reading them this year. This collection was not the best choice to try to get back into the groove of reading them. Now, these are not bad stories by any means but for the most part they did not quite work for me. Part of that is down to genre preference; I like my short stories either fabulist or hyper realistic and these were neither, combining endlessly bleak glimpses into difficult lives with stories that just left me scratching my head (there is a story told completely from the perspective of a dog – something that was never going to work for me outside of flash fiction). I found the stories’ endings often abrupt in a way that did not strike me as intentional. The language is straight forward in a way that worked for me sometimes – when this book felt real and like it could be non-fiction – and sometimes not – when the stories felt unfinished.

However, when the stories worked for me, they were absolutely incredible. I adored both “Something Inside So Strong” and “Malik’s Door” a whole lot – if all these stories had been as sharp and poignant as these I would have been in love. These stories were not only cleverly constructed, the characters felt real and interesting, and the emotional heart made me hurt.

I received an ARC of this book courtesy of NetGalley and Oneworld Publication in exchange for an honest review.

You can find this review and other thoughts on books on my blog.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,884 followers
July 1, 2016
Rating: 4* of five

This is one of the stories that's up for The Caine Prize for African Writing 2016. Winners will be announced on 4th of July, 2016, so I'm hustling my bustle to get them read before the announcement.

A long-time immigrant from Uganda, Nnam wakes up to find her Ugandan immigrant husband dead in the bathroom. He's only 45 so it comes as a huge shock to Nnam, but her odyssey is only beginning. Her husband's body goes home to Uganda, she and their two sons in tow, and the nightmare of losing her husband becomes the smallest of her worries. It isn't a pretty picture. Nnam learns a lot about herself as she goes through her hellish time in Uganda. Probably the best lesson is that she's nobody's fool, a deeply practical and proud and capable woman. But not a widow.

The Caine Prize is turning 17 years old this year. It's helped to launch multiple African writers into orbit, eg NoViolet Bulawayo We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo . I am awestruck anew that we in this rich and powerful country have so little interest in learning any-damn-thing about the lives and hearts of other cultures. It takes so little effort to make this leap of imagination when your guides are as talented as the Caine Prize nominees are. We're readers here at Goodreads. That means we're positioned to empathize with and understand others. Why do so few of us readers make the simple effort to read authors not born in the US? Even ones who write in English? Or even, perish forbid, translated works? It's time to break the habit for those who haven't already. Read these stories, they're free.
Profile Image for Lara Kareem.
Author 4 books92 followers
December 2, 2019
I’ve read many collections of short stories which endings leave me feeling unsettled and bothered because of how abrupt the stories end but this isn’t the case with this book. All stories end perfectly and I found myself chuckling out loud in public spaces while reading this book, which is the best collections of short stories I have ever read since my primary school days.

I laugh in the face of people who think writing short stories is easier than writing a novel. And not just any kind of short story, one with the all the best characteristics of a novel, go ahead...try it, let’s see how easy it is.

I highly love Jennifer Makumbi’s writing and I am so happy she fought for this collection to be published! This pressed on the fact I need to read Kintu ASAP.

One thing I learnt from reading this collection is that we African’s really have characteristics that bind us despite how different our traditions and culture are. I really loved reading about the Ugandans and is it just me but I spotted some connections in the stories that were told, like “Our Allies the Colonies” and “The Nod”

“Let’s Tell This Story Properly” had my heart in my throat and my anger, but what is wonderful throughout is how powerful and inspiring Nnam is.

Of course, my favourite story in the collection is “Memoirs of a Namaaso” because hello a huge canine lover over here. It’s also a story that leaves me 100% curious because of how bittersweet it is.

Of all the humans in the story my favourite was Poonah and I love how we get to follow her in not one but two stories. "In Love Made in Manchester" Masaaba had me in shock and anticipating how the story would end and I love I felt all the intended emotions the story was meant to evoke.

If I was a white person or someone of lower intellect I would be complaining about how this book doesn’t explain the many Ugandan words and expression and be crying about the—*blasphemous* fact there’s no glossary to explain them. Ladies and gentlemen, there’s google and let it be the norm for writers whose indigenous languages aren’t English to use their indigenous words in their books because it is 100% normal for them.

Each of the stories are wonderful and portray beautiful people going about their normal lives. The writing is well put together and definitely unproblematic. The storytelling is seamless and easy to follow. Need I say more? What are you waiting for? Add this book to your TBR if you’ve not read it already!
Profile Image for Areeb Ahmad (Bankrupt_Bookworm).
650 reviews193 followers
March 2, 2021
"Men climbing up and down hulls by means of ropes, men cleaning, men standing on suspended planks painting hulls, cranes loading, cranes offloading, ships departing, ships arriving. The way everyone rushed, the gods must have been stingy with time in England."



February's prompt for #ReadtheWorld21 (@end.notes and @anovelfamily) is East & Southern Africa. My first book by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a Ugandan writer, & 4th pick.

I remember Makumbi had been a speaker at JLF 2019 as I was there. I knew her as Kintu's author but I did not *know* her. I still regret it, especially now that I have finally read my first book by her. If only I had been familiar with her talent then, I would have fanboyed. Manchester Happened is her second book and it has stories revolving around Ugandan characters unsure of their identity. British and Ugandan but neither simultaneously. They occupy these liminal spaces and divide their time between Manchester and Kampala as they try to make something of themselves in a world mostly alien to them all.

"Christmas is Coming", the prologue story which explores alcohol addiction and domestic abuse, sets the bar high. The others are divided into two sections titled "Departing" and "Returning". I was consistently blown away. The writing is easy, engaging, full of unexpected humour. I mean there's even a story from the PoV of a dog! I admired the use of non-English words without minutely explaining them in stories that are rich, distinct, and multi-dimensional: in a league of their own. I definitely need more of her now!
Profile Image for Tasnim (Reads.and.Reveries).
28 reviews144 followers
September 2, 2019
Manchester Happened is a short story collection exploring the experiences of Ugandans who’ve journeyed to make a home for themselves in Britain, Manchester specifically. Whilst the first half of the collection tells the stories of characters who have moved to the UK, the second half looks at the experiences of characters who then return to Uganda after a period of time.

There are an increasing number of books exploring the complexities of immigration in ways that are culturally and demographically specific and this book is one of the best I’ve read.
It should go without saying that there isn’t a singular ‘immigrant experience’. There are cultural differences and unique challenges and this collection invites the reader to understand what some of these might be on a practical and, importantly, on an emotional level for Ugandans. Reading these stories, you are forced to consider what it really means to leave your home and try to make another for yourself elsewhere.
As with any short story collection, I have my favourite stories but I truly enjoyed every one. If I had to highlight a single story, however, it would have to be the one I didn’t see coming. ‘Memoirs of a Namaaso’ explores the experience of migration from the point of view of a dog and it was so original, unexpected and touching I couldn’t help but love it.

I recently heard Makumbi speak at an event and I was completely enthralled; she was captivating, sharp and witty and this just shines through in this collection.
Suffice to say, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is now officially a must-read author for me.
Profile Image for Samir Rawas Sarayji.
444 reviews83 followers
January 11, 2020
I am so happy I read her novel Kintu before reading this bland, mediocre collection of stories. I say happy because I would never have read the novel otherwise. I would never have believed someone who writes droll stories like these would be capable of a masterful epic novel.

This is a collection that reeks of a writer from an MFA program, coupling that with expository African (in this case Ugandan) culture, in the hopes that this would be enough to merit attention. I admit to being the sucker to fall for it. The reality is that you can take many of these stories and interchange the name of location and add to it the associated culture and bam! it still sort of works. So how is that possible?

The lack of depth in characterization and the disinterest in having readers invest emotionally implies stories that remain superficial and focused in self serving doses of cultural exposition only.

Shockingly bad collection after reading her shockingly good novel.
Profile Image for Thebooktrail.
1,546 reviews279 followers
May 26, 2019
description

Visit the locations in the novel

Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi – Weaving between Manchester and Kampala, this collection of short stories looks at what it means to truly belong. They re-imagine the journey of Ugandans who choose to make England their home. Then the second part looks at what happens when these people then return. Outsiders in their own country. Outsiders in the county they now know as home. So, where do they truly belong?

A collection of short stories taking readers from Manchester to Kampala. Two very distinct settings which could not be more different. One a busy UK city and the other a sprawling and chaotic capital of Uganda. The settings provide two very different experiences to the Ugandans in the stories. They have moved to Manchester as immigrants and then return to Uganda after several years away. Their stories, experiences of both places is insightful and moving. Very funny at times too.

The stories vary in theme and tone but they all shed a light on what it means to be an immigrant in a new country and city. Several character pop up in more than one story. I’m pleased Poonah did as her stories were amongst the funniest and her wry humour adds even more flavour and fun to the stories as a whole.

There’s a good mix of themes and issues involved in these personal human stories. Politics and foreign intervention in Uganda are two main themes, but the way they are examined and looked at is insightful. The people telling these stories are average people, average immigrants who have similar stories to tell as any other immigrant would. However, every character in the book reads more like a person you might know. They are all real, very vividly drawn and with interesting personalities to match. This shine on characterisation adds so much from the stories.

There’s lots of funny moments. Did you know the sun has moods? Living in Britain is like living inside a fridge. And as for gargoyles, why do people in rainy Manchester carve ugly faces on their buildings?

There’s lots of nice touches in these stories such as the use of Ugandan language. You get a real flavour of the country, culture, people and heritage. What it means to move from here to Manchester. There’s funny stories of adapting to a new country and culture but there’s also pain and reality too. The mix is quite explosive.

I made friends reading these stories and cared about these people learning lots about Uganda along the way. I will miss them now I’ve finished.
Profile Image for Aisha (thatothernigeriangirl).
206 reviews42 followers
June 28, 2019

It’s 2019. Technology keeps advancing by the second and yet a vast majority of people in other parts of the world still refer to Africa as though it’s a country or worse — “the dark continent”. Whether aware of or oblivious to this fact, Africans still seek migration outside the continent because “home has become the lion’s mouth”. In Manchester Happened, Jennifer Makumbi expatiates on the intricacies of the African migration.

Manchester Happened is a collection of 12 short stories divided into “departing” and “returning”, to further emphasize their points. Makumbi discusses migration like a mother who makes unending prayers for her child and in the same breath, relegate the child to eternal damnation. I say this because some stories appear to be (mostly) anti-African migration and others, pro-African migration. It lowkey felt like Makumbi wanted to highlight the yin and yang of migration.

She told each story in a way that the reader is anxious to see how the story unfolds. For every single story, I couldn’t sit still because I didn’t want it to end to but needed to see how it would. Another reason to applaud Makumbi’s storytelling skills. The writing was layered with such depth and the words strug together in angelic harmony 🎶 . I mean, I was laughing, sighing, hmmm-ing and pausing at every turn😍. It took everything in me not to highlight every single page. Another thing I noticed while reading was that a lot of the sentences were italicized. These sentences, in one way or another, described the feelings, facial expressions, thoughts of the characters and these are very African thing 😁.

That Makumbi felt the need to describe these very African things reminds me of my own culture’s emphasis on them. Since I read the book, I’ve been reevaluating my desire for migration and I think that’s one main aim behind the stories: to squash the naive eagerness that a lot of African youths have regarding migrating to the West. Not to forgo the possibility but to go into it, with eyes wide open, armed with knowledge and with little (or no) expectations.

It is an understatement to say I love Manchester Happened and so it’s a solid 5-star read for me. I recommend you read it before Kintu (if you’re new to Makumbi). I received an advanced reader’s proof from One World Publishing (upon request).
Profile Image for Amyn.
307 reviews81 followers
June 14, 2019
Jennifer Makumbi can never disappoint me. This is an ambitious and beautifully executed anthology. Tenacity at its finest.
A full review will be published on www.somethingbookish.com.ng soonest. I need to catch my breath first.
Profile Image for Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship.
1,095 reviews1,131 followers
September 22, 2019
I thought Kintu was fantastic, so was looking forward to this short story collection. Which, as it turned out, is good, but not quite as good as I was hoping. Though admittedly, I read it soon after three great collections, which set a high bar for short stories.

The first seven stories, just over half the book, follow Ugandan immigrants in Manchester, mostly in the present day, though one story is set in the 1950s. These stories, while interesting, are rather dreary, very much about social issues and always commenting on The Ugandan Immigrant Experience, to the point that the commentary started to feel like a crutch; can’t the human stories stand on their own without having to be representative? Most of these stories probably are strong enough to stand on their own, though they feel a little relentless in their dreariness.

But the last five stories, set in Uganda and generally dealing with returnees from Britain, are a breath of fresh air; while social issues are still central, these stories bring a lightness, openness and warmth missing from the first half of the collection. And the second half just keeps getting better as it goes; the title story and “Love Made in Manchester” are on fire.

Overall, an interesting collection of well-written stories that discuss various issues affecting Ugandans moving between home and England. I like it when short stories leave a bit more to ponder than these do, when the characters are a bit more memorable, but there are some really interesting situations here, and some fun and creativity (such as the story from the point-of-view of a dog). It is worth a read, though I think this author may excel more at novels than short stories.
Profile Image for SueLucie.
454 reviews21 followers
May 9, 2019
A collection of 12 short stories, divided into two sections - one half concentrating on Ugandans’ experiences in Britain, specifically Manchester, and the other on Ugandans returning to Uganda after some years away. Some characters feature several times, the main one being Poonah - a delightful creation with a subtle, wry take on life - and the stories involving her are my favourites.

The stories are political with a light, unchallenging touch, particularly so where the colonial British legacy in Uganda is concerned. One entire story, though, ‘My brother, Bwemage’, is concerned with recent Chinese involvement in Uganda, its economic and social ramifications.

The author writes in a cool, unfaltering style that engaged me straightaway. She presents her characters’ experiences and dilemmas with insight and delicacy, and the final sentences of many of the stories are especially poignant. There is a deal of Ugandan vocabulary in the dialogue with no translation into English - I didn’t find it difficult to understand what was meant and I think it often gave a sense of the vibrancy of Ugandan family life - some of the dialogue is priceless. An entertaining collection that introduced me to a country, the people who left it and those who returned, and a culture that I knew little about. I’d recommend it highly.

With thanks to Oneworld Publications via NetGalley for the opportunity to read an ARC.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,635 reviews26 followers
October 2, 2019
Makumba earned her MA and her PhD in writing in England. She is a university lecturer and lives in Manchester. She has won several writing prizes, and reading this collection, her talent is indisputable. I learned about this book from Savidge Reads, and his high praise for it was well deserved. Then at the end of July I was fortunate to hear Makumbi and meet her at the John Hewitt Summer School in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

Manchester of the title is the city in England. The book is made up of 12 short stories about Ugandans who have made their lives (partly or wholly in the city. Each story is very different from the other. Although Manchester is the common thread, some travel from Manchester back to Uganda, and some from Uganda to Manchester. Details of Ugandan culture are plentiful, as well as the hybrid cultures developed by Ugandans in England. The variety and range of themes makes this an exceptional read.
Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lorraine.
427 reviews145 followers
January 20, 2020
" Happened" is a collection of short stories divided into 2 parts. 11 short stories. 305 pages. Part one is about living in Manchester and the 2nd part is about leaving Manchester, going back to Uganda.
The collection opens with a prologue titled "Christmas Is Coming" and the longing for normalcy in those first 28 pages is palpable. The regularity for a family life left behind. The children who learn to shield and protect their parents’ anger and disappointment at this new life in this new city, in a foreign country. Thereafter part 1, Departing, sets the tone for the rest of the collection. "Our Allies The Colonies" flings you into 6 totally absorbing tales. A man leaving without his child but would not leave without giving his child a name. His name. An identity. A clan he would forever belong to. The second part starts with the tale of Aunty Flower titled “She Is Our Stupid” who, like the prodigal son, returns home when the going gets tough for her in Manchester. Having spun tales of personal prosperity, her family is at pains to recreate her “idyllic” life in Manchester at a great personal cost to them but, she never returns to Britain.

Manchester Happened to all the Uganda’s in these stories. The heartache they went through to remain in this city. The heartache they go through on their return home. We've all arrived somewhere having left home and we've all had to return home, temporary or permanently, at some point.
So much to reflect on. Dreams differed. Self-worth vs net worth. Surviving at all costs. Expectations - return home with nothing, where everybody knows your name, or stay, where nobody wants to learn your name, in nothingness
These themes were glaring both in Manchester and in Uganda. Racism. Colourism. Classism. The violence of an immigrant's life. The cost of mobility - visas, relationships, careers, setting roots. Loss of respect for self and others. Above all, the loss of the right to dignity.

Exceptionally written stories. Emotionally narrated stories. The connectedness between part 1 and part two makes the short stories blend into each other. Each wound, each fracture bled into the next wound, the next fracture.

You will see yourself in many of the stories. Maybe you too left because you couldn't live, or lived because you couldn't leave.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
213 reviews25 followers
October 5, 2019
Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a very strong collection of stories broken into two parts: Departing (stories of coming to Manchester from Uganda) and Returning (stories of return to/visiting Uganda from Manchester). The writing was so engaging, easy, and sometimes humourous that it was often on reflection that I realized how truly heavy some of the topics were.
***
A young boy deals with anxiety over his alcoholic mother's drunken outbursts. A father tries to get his newborn son out of the adoption process. A teenage boy raised in the UK decides to go through Imbalu, adult male circumcision ceremony in Uganda, covered by the BBC. One story is even told through the eyes of a street dog who accidentally makes the journey to Manchester and his life there after. That is just a few of the stories in this fantastic collection. I really appreciated them all and enjoyed the window into a culture I have no real experience with. I woukd definitely like to read more by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and will be looking to pick up Kintu in the future. Also looking forward to hearing her speak in a week's time at the Birmingham Literature Festival!
Profile Image for Rachel.
86 reviews12 followers
November 28, 2019
I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. They take place in a variety of time periods including the 1950s, 1990s and post-Brexit. The stories address issues of belonging and/or not belonging to two places that are a part of the narrators identity. And yet neither England nor Uganda is presented completely as Home.

The narrators are often women and the stories address themes such as relationship woes, financial struggles, familial judgment, racism and xenophobia alongside community connection, familial support, and love.

Out of place in the collection was a story told from the point of view of a pariah dog unintentionally brought to England. I enjoyed the story and saw it’s parallels with the other stories in the collection. However, it felt like it belonged to another short story collection.

Overall I enjoyed it. My favourite stories were The Nod, Christmas is Coming, and Malik’s Door. Would recommend.
Profile Image for Amina Makele.
195 reviews3 followers
October 1, 2021
THE PLOT: “Manchester Happened” by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a short story collection about Ugandan immigrants. Structured in two parts; “departing” and “returning”, it weaves between Manchester and Kampala as characters ultimately decide whether to stay or go. From a man in the 1950’s who is reluctant to leave England without his mixed-race child, to a woman in an unhappy marriage who is dependent upon her spouses’ visa, the stories are varied and complex. Yet each one is unique and exquisitely written in this masterpiece of a collection.

RATING: This is a five-star short story collection and I challenge anyone who thinks differently to a fight! But seriously, I sped through the whole book because it was a delight to read. The writing was rich and descriptive, witty and clever. The characters were complex yet instantly won me over. I’d highly recommend this collection and the author’s novel, ‘Kintu’, is going straight on my TBR.
Profile Image for Abiola.
87 reviews
November 17, 2019
A great collection of short stories, touching on the subject of home and finding one's place through the lives of Ugandans in Britain.... I especially enjoyed the story that the book is named after. The last story was the longest but was hardest to make sense of. Excited to read more of this author's work!
Profile Image for Umaymah.
227 reviews21 followers
December 7, 2020
Solid 5 stars. I'm now a devotee and I shall worship at the nib of Ms Makumbi's pen forever!!!
April 10, 2021
First time reading Ugandan literature and I was pleasantly surprised. A lovely collection of stories that highlights the lives of Ugandans living in diaspora and those returning home after living in the U.K. I'd recommend this for all Africans that have lived or are still living in diaspora. Looking forward to reading Jennifer's other works
Profile Image for Muthoni Muiruri.
98 reviews28 followers
November 1, 2019
This anthology opens with the author giving us an analogy of being the poorest in your clan and having to rely on a rich uncle. This rich uncle will often times threaten to withdraw his support if you do act accordingly but since you need his help, you toe the line. You ask your rich uncle if you can move in with him because your prospects will be much better then, he agrees, but not before he chastises your father for being incompetent. Your rich cousins begin to get tired of you. They want you out, and so you shrink, you try to not be a nuisance, not to take up too much space. And when they presume things about you, it hurts but you’ve already lost your voice. You gravitate more towards the other poor relatives living with your uncle and try to make something of your situation.

A perfect analogy of the Migrant experience! And so begins these stories of Ugandans in Manchester……

The anthology is a collection of 12 short stories, divided into two parts – Departing and Returning. Departing tells the stories of Ugandans, newly arrived and/or trying to navigate this new land. Through these stories we see how hope can quickly turn to despair, how this new land that does not make room for your culture can affect your personality, how you cling on to who you were even though you can see yourself changing a little every day, how relationships with those who welcome you can take a turn for the best or worst, the lengths you will go to, to stay even when it’s clear you are not welcome and how the community can offer solace and grounding.

Returning focuses on those who return to their homeland to discover things are not as they hoped. The condescending attitude of the populace towards the returnees, the new culture shock, the impatience with this developing world that never seems to be get off its feet. The confliction with wanting to belong, knowing the foreign land took something of you and that you may never really fully reintegrate.

This is an incisive book and stories are told with such depth. Picking a favourite was difficult but gun to my head, I’d have to go with “Let’s Tell This Story Properly" because it speaks to a personal experience. Gun to my head, pick two – I’d pick ‘Manchester Happened’ because this story really shows you how relationships and people can evolve when they have to interact in a foreign land and out of their comfort zones.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Latoya (jamaicangirlreads).
82 reviews10 followers
January 12, 2021
This is my first book by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and it certainly will not be my last. I was completely immersed in rich Ugandan culture and I devoured it like I was physically there. Manchester Happened is a short story collection that immaculately details the period of great migration from Uganda to Brittain. The writing flows seamlessly and in no time I was captivated by each characters story, I even enjoyed the references made in Luganda language that I had to research to keep up to speed with the conversations. Here, we're introduced to Ugandan culture, cultural assimilation in Britain, the nuances of migrating for a better life. The characters' experiences challenges their mental and physical ability to survive a new country, but among all of this is hope and resilience. In these stories we meet international students navigating an immigration system compared to a war zone, wives giving in to submission because what's the alternative when changing your identity is easier that being deported on the next flight home. If Katura and Malik is not an example of all of this, I don't know what is. The value of a passport is sometimes worth more than life itself. In the second part of the book, Ugandan residents return home and the culture shock is entertaining. We learn about the significance of rights of passage (isn't Masaabe a hero? ), marriage rituals, ethnic foods and Jennifer gives surprising twists and turns with family drama that makes this book a solid page turner. I assure you, you've probably either experienced or heard one of these stories in real life. If you haven't picked this one up yet, you should, I loved it.

My Favorite: Honestly, all of them, but "Let's Tell This Story Properly stole my heart.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Greg.
690 reviews4 followers
April 20, 2019
* I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to review this book. *

This is a collection of short stories from Ugandan writer Jennifer Makumbi about the experiences of (mostly) women emigrating from Africa to live in Manchester, and the struggles that they encounter immersed in a foreign culture. The stories in the second half of the book deal with emigrants returning home to find that they no longer quite fit in Uganda either.

These stories reminded me very much of Junot Diaz, in that Makumbi is adept at immersing the reader in the language and culture of an ethnic enclave living in a foreign city. Like Diaz, she has some recurring characters that she builds a narrative arc for across different stories. The collection is carefully put together and shines quite a different light on the emigrant experience.
Profile Image for Coded Reader.
31 reviews17 followers
June 14, 2019
A collection of 12 stories revolving around immigrants from Uganda to Manchester,a beautiful and interesting write up told with empathy, humor and compassion.
Profile Image for Muthoni Muiruri.
98 reviews28 followers
November 1, 2019
This anthology opens with the author giving us an analogy of being the poorest in your clan and having to rely on a rich uncle. This rich uncle will often times threaten to withdraw his support if you do act accordingly but since you need his help, you toe the line. You ask your rich uncle if you can move in with him because your prospects will be much better then, he agrees, but not before he chastises your father for being incompetent. Your rich cousins begin to get tired of you. They want you out, and so you shrink, you try to not be a nuisance, not to take up too much space. And when they presume things about you, it hurts but you’ve already lost your voice. You gravitate more towards the other poor relatives living with your uncle and try to make something of your situation.

A perfect analogy of the Migrant experience! And so begins these stories of Ugandans in Manchester……

The anthology is a collection of 12 short stories, divided into two parts – Departing and Returning. Departing tells the stories of Ugandans, newly arrived and/or trying to navigate this new land. Through these stories we see how hope can quickly turn to despair, how this new land that does not make room for your culture can affect your personality, how you cling on to who you were even though you can see yourself changing a little every day, how relationships with those who welcome you can take a turn for the best or worst, the lengths you will go to, to stay even when it’s clear you are not welcome and how the community can offer solace and grounding.

Returning focuses on those who return to their homeland to discover things are not as they hoped. The condescending attitude of the populace towards the returnees, the new culture shock, the impatience with this developing world that never seems to be get off its feet. The confliction with wanting to belong, knowing the foreign land took something of you and that you may never really fully reintegrate.

This is an incisive book and stories are told with such depth. Picking a favourite was difficult but gun to my head, I’d have to go with “Let’s Tell This Story Properly" because it speaks to a personal experience. Gun to my head, pick two – I’d pick ‘Manchester Happened’ because this story really shows you how relationships and people can evolve when they have to interact in a foreign land and out of their comfort zones.

I highly recommend this book.
Profile Image for Hafs.
166 reviews28 followers
June 22, 2022
One thing about Africans, they will write short stories like you've never read before (see What it means when a man falls from the sky which is one of the first books I read this year and it set me up for my best reading year yet)

Honorable mention stories from the collection:
Manchester happened (it was a stunna, the name of the book was chosen well)
Malik's Door
She is our stupid
The aftertaste of success
Let's tell this story properly


This book follows a few (fictional) members of the Ugandan diaspora living in Manchester, England. The book is in 2 parts; Departing: or as I called it, the struggles in the white mans land and Returning: the struggles in Uganda. Because in plain reality struggle is everywhere, in England, in Africa, its just suffering.


Moving on.


The stories that featured women leads also has a special place in my heart, strength to me is synonymous with woman more so African woman, it is not to be romanticized but she will stay in that toxic marriage for her kids, she will be called names for being barren to her face and behind her back and she will put on that make up and show up to that event. Someone said mountain and all I could hear was African Woman. (I am not painting a flowery image of DV and the like but I admire that resilience, the motherland did not birth weak women thank God)



The book had a sense of familiarity to it as well like when I see the name of a street/town/mall that I know of and it just made me feel so homey for whatever reason. However, some stories still fell short for me and it made me physically unable to read them at one go and I had to dissect them (That one story about some girl called Poonah, Lord the way I was praying for it to end)

Heavy themes are discussed in this one: Racism, Domestic violence, Suicide, Death of loved ones
Profile Image for Dimps.
159 reviews
June 3, 2022
Manchester Happened by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi- 3.75🌟

Manchester happened is a short story collection by Jennifer, it is a book about Ugandans (either departing from or returning back home), it depicts the identity crisis that they face as neither being fully Ugandan nor being fully British. These are the people who spend time in Britain trying to make a life out there and then those who return, trying to once again embrace their culture.

The writing style isn’t overwhelming when it talks about the alienation in part 1 and it is quite easy to read. The most interesting story has to be the one from a dog’s P.O.V, it was too interesting and I loved reading that one. This book is equal parts heart touching and humorous and that was what made it even more worth my time. Every story in the book shows a different side of Britain and the struggles over identity (people are even compelled to change their names for their ease of living). Personally, the stories in part 2 were what I enjoyed slightly more than the ones in part 1. The prologue, Christmas Is Coming, was an amazing story, a story that showed how Luzinda escapes parties because his mother is an alcoholic, I loved the relationship that both the siblings, Luzinda and Bakka shared.

Overall, I really like the way Jennifer always tries to incorporate the native words in the stories and the ease with which she carves a story and how her stories are always packed with important themes.
Profile Image for We Are Book and Cranny.
12 reviews2 followers
November 16, 2022
Cranny Rating - 57%

A slightly tepid response from our Crannies this month (hey it happens, not every book is for everyone), but who would have thought a story from the perspective of a dog would be so polarising! Some felt it was a nice mid-point for the book, splitting it in two, while others felt it was entirely out of place.

A major gripe from many was that there felt to be a significant amount of narrative blur. While every character presented from the narrator's perspective felt fully realised, we felt that we didn't necessarily get a strong sense of who each narrator was and how they differed from the others.

We came away feeling like we learned something, which is never a bad thing, but when you find no true lovers or true haters for a book, we can agree it's earned its middle of the road status.

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