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The First Woman

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  1,563 ratings  ·  312 reviews
"A powerful feminist rendition of Ugandan origin tales, The First Woman tells the story of Kirabo, the equivalent of Eve in Ugandan mythology."

"Smart, headstrong, and flawed, Kirabo is raised by doting grandparents in idyllic Natteria in rural Uganda. But as she enters her teens, she starts to feel overshadowed by the absence of the mother she has never known. At once epic
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published October 1st 2020 by Oneworld Publications (first published September 1st 2020)
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Ben Taylor Yes. It is published under different names in different countries. "A Girl is a Body of Water" is its name in North America, "The First Woman" is its …moreYes. It is published under different names in different countries. "A Girl is a Body of Water" is its name in North America, "The First Woman" is its name in the UK (and I think everywhere apart from North America). (less)

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Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

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I am such a sucker for epic sagas that follow someone's growth over time, so when I realized that A GIRL IS A BODY OF WATER was such a story revolving around a Ugandan girl's coming of age, I was so excited. I don't really think the blurb on the back of the book fully tells you what the book is going to be about, though. I was left with the impression that we were going to follow Kirabo around as an older child, but we actually stay with
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The ancients claimed women could not share land wealth. "They claimed that the very first woman rose out of the sea while the first man emerged from earth...both women and the sea were baffling...water has no inconsistent...cannot be cannot draw borders on the belonged with men".

Nattetta, Uganda, a rural patriarchal village in the 1970's. Grandfather (Miiro) was a member of the school board, his mantra, "A girl uneducated is an oppressed wife in the making". G
Why penned hens peck each other

‘My grandmothers called it kweluma. That is when oppressed people turn on each other or on themselves and bite. It is as a form of relief. If you cannot bite your oppressor, you bite yourself.’

The First Woman is a feast of Ugandan history, language, culture, mythology but above all mwenkanonkano—a Luganda word that loosely translates as feminism, but this concept is older, local, not something imported from the west.

‘Any mwenkanonkano is radical. Talk about
This is my first book by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi and it definitely will not be my last

If you are looking for a book set in Uganda during the 1970s with a strong female protagonist, this book is it! In A Girl Is A Body Of Water we meet young Kirabo who is being raised by her Grandparents in a small village called Nattetta. The story Kirabo was told is that her father, Tom, showed up with her 12 years ago because her mother did not want her. Since then Kirabo have been wondering, who is thi
Gumble's Yard (aka Golden Reviewer)
Nov 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
A strong contender for the 2021 Women's Prize.

…. our Original State ….. was wonderful for us. We were not squeezed inside, we were huge, strong, bold, loud, proud, brave, independent. But it was too much for the world and they got rid of it. However occasionally the state is reborn in a girl like you. But in all cases it is suppressed

This book begins in a small Ugandan village in Bugerere county in 1975 and proceeds through to 1983 (with a lengthy and important backstory section in 1934-1945
Emer (A Little Haze)
The First Woman is an interesting, if sometimes inaccessible, read about the role of women in Ugandan society.

Stories are critical, Kirabo,’ she added thoughtfully. ‘The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us.’

Kirabo, the main character, is a young teenager in the 1970s amid the backdrop of Idi Amin’s rule, and the book follows her coming of age story through to young adulthood. Her story is told using a feminist lens, and is also much influenced by Ugandan mythology as
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
I read Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu a while ago with my Read Around the World Bookclub and really liked it. The author is from Uganda but now lives in Manchester but both Kintu and her new novel First Woman are set in Uganda. First Woman is essentially a coming of age story, but it is also way more than that. The story starts in 1975, during Amin’s regime and we follow Kirabou’s journey from teenager into womanhood. Amin’s presence and the violence of those years are woven in the backgroun ...more
Sep 04, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Girl is a Body of Water, at its core, is a journey of girlhood into womanhood and introduces an array of characters: witches, wicked stepmothers, envious BFFs, striving feminists, obedient wives, absent mothers, disenfranchised widows, and budding careerists.

Yet at the core of the book is Kirabo, a girl who is journeying into womanhood in the 1970s, in Uganda whose mother left her when she was still an infant. Although well-loved by her grandparents, Kirabo feels as if there is two of her and
Holly R W
This is a coming of age story set in Uganda, Africa (circa 1970's -1980's), featuring a young girl (Kirabo) who is 12 years old when the book begins. She lives with her grandparents (Miiro and Alikisia) who have been raising her, along with assorted cousins and aunts. Their home is hospitable to their neighbors' children as well. The reader will come to know that the family is large with complex relationships amongst kin. Kirabo is being raised with love, yet feels hurt that her father (Tom) onl ...more
Sep 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
In her twelfth year, Kirabo, a young Ugandan girl, confronts a piercing question that has haunted her childhood: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small village of Nattetta—her grandmother, Muka Miiro, (and grandfather), her best friend, and her many aunts, but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Her father, Tom, is an affluent businessman in Kampala and comes to visit her once in a blue moon. Complicating these feelings of abandonment, as Kirabo comes of ...more
Sasha (bahareads)
A Girl is a Body of Water was such a beautiful tangled family history. The coming together and weaving of narrative and storyline were brilliant. As a reader, you get to experience Uganda during the 1970s and see Kirabo's coming of age story. Experiencing life through Birabo's eyes and see what it's like growing up a very strict patriarchal society where women have little freedom in most spaces. It was a slow-moving plot but Kirabo was an excellent main character. I did get a bit confused abou ...more
Aug 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Makumbi has done it again. What a genius. I just finished this novel and while I'm letting its words marinate inside me, I feel inspired and empowered to do something, you know? I want to achieve a goal. It's always a joy to see a master storyteller at work and Makumbi is just *chef's kiss* ...more
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
I thought this author’s Kintu was great, and was excited to read this book. Kintu focuses mostly on men, and the author describes it as “masculinist” for its examination of how patriarchy hurts men, while this book is intended to be her feminist work. And it is, focusing on a Ugandan girl, Kirabo, and her female relatives, and the way they make their life decisions around expectations for women. Like Kintu, this one appears to be written first for a Ugandan audience, which is to the book’s credi ...more
Mai Nguyễn
Jan 10, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jennifer's prose is very innovative. I am excited to be having a conversation with her as part of a forthcoming festival in the Netherlands. ...more
Rhiannon Johnson
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have the hardest time writing reviews for the books that I love and *wow* did I love this one. When I finish a book I really enjoyed I tend to sit and think about it for too long and sometimes I let the time pass, not writing a review at all because I feel I just can't do it justice. This is exactly the predicament I have been in for the last week. A Girl is a Body of Water is a blend of Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s Sta
Aug 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first book by this author so I went in not knowing what to expect style-wise, but knowing I very much was interested in the coming-of-age Ugandan historical fiction premise of Kirabo, a young, motherless girl trying to understand her identity as a woman and why she feels the need to minimize the uncontrollable parts of her spirit, as she moves from girlhood to young womanhood.

I was a little torn on how to rate this novel because the style of storytelling is not necessarily my prefere
Gautam Bhatia
Dec 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“Stories are critical, Kirabo,” she added thoughtfully. “The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us.”

In 2017, I read and loved Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s Kintu, a wonderful piece of historical fiction spanning the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial history of Uganda. Makumbi’s seamless ability to move between great political events and deeply personal stories, and her ability to contextualise each in terms of the other, made Kintu a uniquely beautiful read. The Fir
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review is of what may be a pre-final-edited-version of this book provided to me via Net Galley.

A Girl is a Body of Water by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is essentially a coming-of-age story set in Uganda in the 1970s. The story begins with Kirabo Nnamiiro, a smart, feisty, twelve-year-old girl who consults a blind elderly neighbor, Nsuuta-labeled by the village as a witch-, to help search for her mother and also to help her to deal with the conflicting emotions wracking her teenage body that
"Tell me that whatever happens to you, you will not make another woman's life worse."

I absolutely loved this one! Kirabo and the women that surround her are neither angels nor saints. They are women—some witches, if you like. While we there are men who feature, this is a book about women; how they seek solace in each other, console each other, betray each other, defend each other, mother each other, and part ways with each other. The feminist messages in this book were many, but we are remi
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a book! I am still gathering my thoughts.
Oct 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, five-stars
i have full faith this novel will stand the test of time and will hopefully be seen as a modern classic. a girl is a body of water was so brilliant, so unapologetic; it's not in my habit to rate books five stars but for makumbi's work i felt that i must.

her prose is so excellent and precise. makumbi notes this in her interview with powell (which i shall be referencing more than once in this review, as it was quite insightful):

one of the things that i tend to do when i'm writing or when i'm editi
Nov 18, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels, 2020
What I found most interesting and kept me reading was learning about the people of Uganda and how needs and greed turn into culture which is then pulled at by new needs and new greeds. Unfortunately for us women we always have to weave our way through all of this, sometimes fighting each other to do this rather than the system imposed from outside.

Unfortunately also my personal connection to the book, the story, the characters remained removed. I find that I do not like sagas because I am starti
Diana Sandberg
Both entertaining and enlightening, but a bit overlong. I was interested in the depiction of the intersection of ancient tradition with colonial ideas and attitudes, and how each individual has their own comfort level with how much of each they can or must accommodate in their lives. I wasn't always clear about what was going on in parts of this story, as people's motivations were sometimes rooted in ideas that went unexplained. No doubt someone more familiar with the culture would have got it. ...more
Nicole R
When "international" was selected for Play Book Tag, this is the exact type of book I wanted to get to. A book by an international author writing about her native culture, a culture that I know little about. What I didn't know when I picked it up was that it was also very much about feminism and women in Uganda gaining more autonomy. Added bonus.

Warning: I am going to botch all of these names because I listened on audio and didn't see how they were spelled.

Kirabo, our main character, is a pre-t
Jun 27, 2020 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways, on-deck, 2020
*Thanks to Tin House & Goodreads for an advance copy!
Oct 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s debut novel Kintu and short story collection Manchester Happened were both great reads but her second novel, The First Woman, is superlative.

The story focuses on Kirabo, a headstrong girl in the patriarchal society of Uganda. She lives with her grandparents and is desperate to find out about her mother. Since her grandparents are silent about the matter, she decides to consult the witch Nsuuta for information. Through a series of sessions Kirabo discovers some secret
Liz Hein
Dec 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I went into this blind, so I didn’t know it was an epic multi-generational family saga with strong female characters, my favorite kind of story.

I used the word story very purposefully. All 500+ pages of this book felt like I was being told a beautiful and sweeping story that I didn’t want to pause or end. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a master storyteller.

Set in Uganda, this is the coming of age story of Kirabo. Like any good story, I think it’s best going in not knowing much about the plot. W
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
“Stories are critical, Kirabo,” she added thoughtfully. “The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us.”

This book is filled with such pearls of wisdom, I can honestly say that every page was a joy to read. Beginning in 1975 Uganda – during Idi Amin’s dictatorship - this book chronicles one village girl’s pursuit to find her mother. Born headstrong and inquisitive, Kirabo questions matters others would rather she forget. She calls this rebellious streak her second self – a side
Feb 07, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an underrated writer. Beautiful and poetic story following a courageous brazen young woman, Kirabo and her becoming of age journey in 1970s Uganda. This is the second book I’ve read from this author and I look forward to reading ‘Kintu’. Filled with such deep rooted culture, the authenticity was so raw it made for an indulgent read and I would highly recommend.
Jul 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
"A Girl is a Body of Water" by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi was billed to me as a story of a young girl from Uganda, her family relationships, and the culture and expectations through which she struggles. I struggled with this novel mainly because of difficulty keeping the many characters straight and not being able to engage with Kirabo, the voice of the novel. While introducing a huge number of characters does reflect the many influences that Kirabo must maintain and consider and who have a part ...more
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Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, a Ugandan novelist and short story writer, has a PhD from Lancaster University.

Her first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani Manuscript Prize in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. Her story "Let's Tell This Story Properly" won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

She is currently working on her second novel and a collection of short stories, Travel is

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“Remember, be a good person, not a good girl. Good girls suffer a lot in this life.” 8 likes
“Stories are critical, Kirabo. The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us.” 4 likes
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