The second novel from the Ugandan-born author of Kintu, and winner of the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize in 2018, is a powerful, feminist tale about a headstrong young woman's coming-of-age in 1970s Uganda. It opens in the small village of Nattetta, Uganda, in 1975, where 12-year-old Kirabo Nnamiiro is being brought up by her doting paternal grandparents. Up until now, Kirabo has been perfectly content with her life at the heart of a prosperous, extended family, but now, on the verge of her teenage years, she is starting to feel the absence of her mother, a woman she cannot remember.
The First Woman follows Kirabo on her search for her mother, as she grows from a child to a young woman, through her sexual awakening, to find her place in the world. The novel unfolds over eight years, from 1975 to 1983, under the regime of Idi Amin, and the violence of those years is subtly present in the background. But this is Kirabo's story and she is a wonderful heroine: headstrong, inquisitive and determined. The novel is rich with Luganda words, and steeped in ancient Ugandan folklore, making it an immersive read. I loved it. As one of the characters says: "Stories have such power you cannot imagine."