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Abyssinian Chronicles is a novel set in a tribal village in Uganda, which traces the life of the author, Moses Isegawa, from the 1960s through the early 1990s. Itâ??s a story that goes through the history of modern Uganda, with the arrival of Idi Amin, the collapse of his regime, the sequence of civil and guerilla wars, the horror, the rise of AIDS and the left destruction.
The book introduces a grand number of characters, expressing all the extremes of beauty and brutality, wisdom and ignorance, wealth and poverty, hope and despair that define the continent today.
The main character Mugezi, doesnâ??t live the happiest of childhood, even though his family is fairly well-off (considering they can afford all the necessities and most of the comforts of Ugandan life at that time). The boy takes it all in, he learns, observes and teaches, and starts to feel the very earth moving under the African experience and the people he loves.
Mugezi's father is Serenity. In a fit of independence from his extended family rich in centuries and old traditions, he makes an extremely unwise choice in proposing to Padlock, a former nun who got carried away in punishing some children so violently, that she was forced back into a world where she was both ill-suited for and hated. Marriage is a perverse martyrdom for her, and she makes as many others suffer for it as she can.
When Serenity gets a job in the city of Kampala, he and Padlock move there, leaving Mugezi with his grandmother and other relatives in the village. It is perhaps the happiest time in his life, as he goes as his grandmother's assistant when she performs her job as midwife, where he learns about life, pain, happiness and the job. But, on January 25, 1971 his world comes crashing down: the night Idi Amin takes power is also the night his grandmother dies.
Therefore, Mugezi has to move to the city and live with his parents. He describes his life there as one close to slavery and misery, the imperious Padlock making him do all the dirty jobs, taking care of his 11 siblings referring to them simply as the "shitters". On some occasions, Mugezi gets back at his mother's tyranny with subtle sabotage. Eventually he gets himself shipped off to a seminary, a place with even more unspeakable and arbitrary terror, both from other former students and teachers.
By the time Mugezi leaves the seminary the country has been almost completely corrupted. He canâ??t get a place at the university to study law - his grandfather's dream for him. Getting a place depends on contacts, bribes, connections, and luck, and even resourceful Mugezi canâ??t navigate this particular maze. So, Mugezi eventually becomes a teacher, the pay is so low that no teacher can live on that salary alone. Mugezi is able to supplement his income with a booming home brewery business.
The guerrilla war continues, acts of horror, violence and brutality occur on all levels. Amongst the worst are those relatives who are tortured, killed and gang-raped. The rise of AIDS also starts claiming his victims, affecting Mugezi's family as well as many others. The novel also reflects the complexity of Ugandas different ethnic and religious groupings. The north-south split is the most obvious, but there are other significant ones. Isegawa introduces Indian, Catholic, Protestant, and Muslim characters, and explains there different positions.
Eventually, Mugezi leaves for the Netherlands starting a new life there. These last part of the novel covers a lot of aspects, from government corruption to AIDS hysteria to seedy aid organizations to Dutch racism Isegawa covers a lot of ground.