Title: Flame and Song
Publisher:Sooo Many Stories
I am particularly excited to have read my very first Ugandan published novel by Sooo Many Stories headed by extraordinaire Nyana Kakooma.
“People talk about things that are bigger than life. There’s nothing bigger than life. Life is big and beautiful as it is. You just take selections from life and put in fiction form. When you see that, it’s just the great” writes Robert Dunalley.
Personally, I believe that anyone who lands their hands on The Flame and Song can agree with the above life lesson. I also think any 90’s kid such as myself is in for one amazing ride. I must caution you excessive reading of this book will leave you with undertones of unbridled pleasure and surely your ecstasy will be justified (see what I did there, with the blog name)
The Flame and Song is a memoir of Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa. As a child born in the 1990’s, I have had an opportunity to zoom into folktales around fire told by my grandparents (before you give me the look with piercing eyes please understand that’s what my wild imagination remembers) and focus on the clear snapshots of what living in such a time entailed as Philippa pens her thoughts.
The way her thoughts gently stroke her hand as she writes with rich imagery of such a strong heritage really amazes me. Not only that, but also how Philippa carefully arranges her words with poetic grace is what makes Philippa’s memoir the memoir of the year for me. She literally opens her world to us, the readers and invites us to travel with her family from Uganda, Kenya through Ethiopia, Namibia and finally South Africa.
Did I mention how she beautiful wraps the reader’s mind around family? It reminds me of the saying my family may not be perfect together but altogether we make it” perfect. Raised by the phenomenal poet, Henry Barlow renowned for his poem,” Building the nation and a strong pillar of motherhood that her mother, Fayce personifies. Not forgetting her charming siblings Maliza, Estella, Fay, and Chris. Two of Philippa’s siblings have cerebral palsy and in such a time as then, everyone was disability sensitive (let’s just say it was like the horror of horrors). It was a major taboo and this sparked a great move by her parents to start a school a school for the disabled persons in the 1960’s
The main theme is absorbed in fire as depicted in the chapters right from “The Hearth”, Stocking the Fire”, Snuffing out the fire”, “Smouldering Embers”, “New fires” and lastly “Ashes and rekindled.”
The Hearth is introductory chapter that describes in-depth the tender youth of newly independent Uganda. The political temperatures are high and this may leave you sweating with apprehension.
She goes on to share in-depth of the then unstable political climate. The way Philippa writes with suspense choking the reader’s air captivates me especially when reading times with Idi Amin in “snuffing the fire.”
When she writes about her high school days while at Gayaza in the “Smouldering Embers”, I find that this chapter reeks of so much nostalgia for me having been an old girl at the same high school. It engrained within her Christianity and the death of the then archbishop of Uganda Janan Luwum causes her parents to change school address to Kenya High school in Nairobi.
This memoir left me highly coordinated with my emotional senses as any reader will see that death occurs to many of Philippa’s close family members. I believe that death also explains the cover which is a fusion of sunrise and sunset just like the days of our lives.
At a tender age in High school, death robs her of Uncle Jack who is her next of kin in Nairobi, her sister is also taken and unfortunately Philippa was not able to bury her. Then eventually death claims the lives of her parents starting with her father and ending with her mother. In the VIP room, is a poem centred on the theme of death and it is the most outstanding piece of poetry my eyes have stumbled upon. Each stanza will leave your mind lingering in a state of empathy and feel Philippa ‘s loss.
Here is a spoiler;
‘The builder of the nation is dead.
But he was old,’
In the VIP room, on the 6th floor, of our
national flagship hospital
we loved him and prayed for him.
It was all we could do,
impotent against a system
that made us grateful for crumbs.
After all the migrations, Philippa settles with her husband, Victor in Cape town in the 1990s.She continues to see the world as she travels and wanders through her mind to define where home is a she creates a sense of belonging with her three children.
If you would love to get yourself copy of the memoir of the year, you can get online it from Magunga Bookstore or Turn The Page Africa, and if you are in Kampala, Uganda drop by any bookshop and get it at just 32000UGX.I also finally got an opportunity to meet Phillippa at the Story Moja Festival 2017.
Blessings and Bliss.