By the end of last year, I happened to be caught up in a discussion about Uganda’s best fiction works. One name kept coming up, “Kintu”. Even though it was somewhat a choral among all the people I was interacting with, one brought me to the attention of Moses Isegawa’s “Abyssinian Chronicles”. First published in 1998 and then again in 2001 by Vintage International, it’s the only Ugandan book I knew that looked like “them other European books”. It was printed on that soft brown paper and looked impressive. The accolades would follow later. However I have not read it almost 20 years later. And it is not the only one.
Book lovers tend to want to read everything they hear good things about. Those things usually make up culture. The famous line “I want some more” might be missed by someone who didn’t read Oliver Twist. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” to refer to that famous opening line in “A Tale of Two Cities” or “Four legs good, two legs better” from Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.
I have read but I have not read some of the stuff I think matters. I share my list with you and dare myself to read all these before the year ends. They are books I have had a glimpse at, heard about and want to read to find out why they were such a big deal when they were written. Here’s my list of generally agreed upon classics I haven’t read yet.
- Abyssinian Chronicles by Moses Isegawa. It scores a 3.52 rating on Goodreads which is standard for a good but not so amazing book. I will find out whether my friend was right to mention it in great Ugandan fiction.
- Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This is a book I first heard about during European History and Literature lessons at A’Level. Dostoyevsky is one of those names that political animals refer to every now and then.
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. He is considered one of the world’s greatest writers ever and why I am drawn to it is because of the questions it is said to raise. “How does one live a fulfilled life?”
- 1984 by George Orwell. Clearly because of the times. References are daily being made to this book. The current political affairs of the world are in a state that the book seemed to prophesy. The book is actually at a giveaway price at Aristoc right now, only UGX 49,900.
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. It’s almost 60 years old this book and yet it never leaves the tongues of the bibliohogs. Harper Lee calls it a simple love story. What is this simple thing that gets such rave reviews?
- Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka. It first came to my attention from Ayobami Adebayo who was weighing in on “What is an African story?”. It’s a book that tries to escape the labels. I am trying to see how.
- Fate of the Banished by Julius Ocwinyo. This book is on Uganda’s literature syllabus. You’ll agree with me not a lot of Ugandan books get to our own syllabus so hearing it is on makes me wonder, why.
- The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon. Referenced by Arthur Koestler in his intellectually gripping novel “Darkness at Noon”, the book’s appeal is also partly due to the fact that Fanon was one of the most prolific black minds of his time and continues to weigh in on the subject.
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. Poetry that explores the religious views of Dante’s time. This masterpiece is said to be one of the works that seems to mistakenly add canon to the Biblical view of hell, purgatory and paradise.
- Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. Because who doesn’t like a tragic story?
The only question I am left is where am I going to find all these books plus what’s on your list of generally agreed upon classics that you haven’t read?