Brian Bwesigye is a post-graduate student of Human Rights at Central European University (CEU), Budapest, Hungary. He is the Vice President of the Students Union Board and a member of the CEU Blank Pages Society, a community club that hosts literary activities at the university. He told Beatrice Lamwaka about his passion for identity, culture, and multi-culturalism.
What do you like about books?
There is seductive magic in the life that streams out of books. It deceptively distracts me from the routine of life. It is the same life that the books we are obsessed with reflect upon or seek to in their many different ways. Be it literary, autobiographical, general or academic, books have their own way of revealing the different facets of living that we can’t find anywhere else. What is even more interesting about the charm of the books is that they are more addictive than the common addictions we know. But we never consider the books as an addiction because there are more positive effects of the deceptive escape from routine they offer than the negative.
Which are your favourite books?
From the day, I read No longer At Ease, which was my first in Chinua Achebe’s African Trilogy, it has remained the most preferred of all books I had read before and after. There are many ways in which I related to Obi as a character that when I later ‘met’ his grandfather, Okonkwo, I figured out what a favourite book for me should be and should not be. Arrow of God became a useful bonus. The impact of Achebe’s first three books is the silent factor for my choice of other favourites, also works of fiction, from Timothy Wangusa’s Upon This Mountain, through Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People to Okot p Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ochol. It is probably about the characters that appeal and speak to me personally, from Mwambu to Dr Thomas Stockmann.
What kind of stories appeal to you?
There are books you pick and from start to finish, you feel you are being talked to personally, stories that engage the mind, the emotions, more than treating you as a spectator. Stories that manage to get me to sneer, to rejoice, stories that get me agitated. Predictably, realistic fiction offers an intellectual and emotional experience. Some autobiographies have also managed to nibble away at my intellectual and emotional self. In Bill Clinton’s My Life, the part where he describes the inappropriateness of his behaviour with Lewinsky just does it for me.
Of course, in sadder tales like the one Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, there are those parts that really sting, the parts that knock at the core of what makes us human. At the risk of sounding narcissistic, there are stories I read and I feel like the writer knows me and has been observing me for a while. Stories that challenge me, stories that expose my inadequacies.
Which books are some you couldn’t put down?
I grabbed Okot p Bitek’s only novel, White Teeth sometime in July this year and I was hypnotised I even missed a meal, just to finish it. Olive Kobusingye’s The Correct Line? Uganda under Museveni also had a similar impact. Her attention to detail, her unique way of weaving the biographical with political commentary and the wealth of historical context stole a whole night from me. More than Ihouma’s beauty, there is a lot in Amadi’s The Concubine that captivates me every other time I re-read it.
Which are best books you have read in 2011?
Beverley Nambozo’s Unjumping is a refreshing read that I am sure I will always get back to in years to come. L.D Wenzel’s Caught in the Winds also managed to touch uncharted territory in my world, ripping open some philosophical and ordinary questions I have always had about the various sects of Christianity. Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun has legitimately re-assured me that my obsession with the Igbo did not end with Achebe. By the time I finished reading the book, I was asking myself whether I am not a lost Biafran!
Which book are you reading?
I am reading Wole Soyinka’s Ake: The Years of Childhood and still fighting a battle that I will lose over whether to immediately re-read Chimamanda’s Purple Hibiscus.