What you need to know:
- Book title: Whispers from Vera
- Author: Gorreti Kyomuhendo
- Year: 2023
- Where: African Writer’s Trust (0775685909) Onomo Hotel Kampala; Nice Book Centre, Naalya; and Italian Supermarket Muyenga
- Price: Shs50,000
A romantic fiction story told in a candid, pleasant way, Whispers from Vera explores the romantic musings, aspirations and challenges of courtship and early days of marriage.
This is one of Goretti Kyomuhendo’s first novels that has been reprinted this year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its first publication. The book was first written in form of fictional letters in the Crusader newspaper between 1996 and 1999 and later in the Monitor newspaper in the early 2000s. Because of the popularity of the series, Monitor published it as a novel in 2003.
The book is about the trials and triumphs of dating, finding a marriage partner and starting a young family in 21st century metropolitan Uganda. It touches on the traditions, sounding out marriage, and gender roles and how the younger generations like to bend them.
What I like about the book is how it succinctly communicates that in relationships, we suffer for lack of wisdom, under the weight of our own stupidities for the most part. Your pain is more often from inside of you than from your partner. For instance, Vera, the main character and narrator in this romantic novel makes several bad emotional decisions like leaving her man at the first sight of a challenge.
She consequently suffers under the weight of responsibility, taking care of herself and her newborn baby while she must also perform at work.
This book is written with feminist sensibilities and undertones. The female characters who triumph in their endeavors tend to assert their power from time to time over their male counterparts while those that don’t assert themselves tend to lose.
The female characters are more likely to say no to tradition because, like feminism, they view tradition as repressive. Vera stands up to her mother and insists that there will be no traditional ceremony (kwanjula) and she is certainly not going to invite her father’s family, especially her senior uncle to introduce Eric to, because they have not been there for the family during hard times.
“My parents’ is you, Mummy, and you already know Eric,” she tells her mother who has been insisting they must hold a traditional ceremony to introduce Eric. Surprisingly, the mother doesn’t insist after that. This indicates that even the traditional woman is falling in line and moving away from tradition. But even then, culture still holds some sway. In the end Vera succumbs and invites her father’s family who attend in big numbers.
While there are some male characters that still dominate their women, the central male characters are either supporting their wives amidst the quarrels and disagreements as the women rise, or they are sitting back quietly. This seems to signify that the men too are becoming less and less traditional.
A conversational tone
The book is written in a very personal letter form. It starts with the main character introducing herself to an imaginary stranger and then goes on to make very good friends with them, revealing her romantic journey with a man of her dreams. It feels like Vera is the reader’s friend, sharing the story of how fortunate she has been.
The language is simple and the arrangement of the story linear, making it a nice easy read for most. It also is very Ugandan with lots of Uglish used intentionally which makes it very conversational. It is however, possibly a little too easy for readers who might want more bite.
What I do find problematic is how idealistic the story sometimes feels. Vera is a very successful woman who falls in love with a very successful man, a classic princess and prince romantic story. The only problem is, there is no witch standing in the way of their happiness, until much later when her husband’s ex shows up and puts up a fight. And even then, somehow Vera and Eric always make up.
A cathartic read
Whispers from Vera is an easy-going book that female readers may find very cathartic as it casts women as winning on their own terms while the men support them in their grand endeavours. The era where women are left home to look after the children while the man globetrots is past. The tables have turned. The line between traditional gender roles is blurred; the woman gains ground. And this is a reality that holds more water than some may like to admit.
The book was launched on August 26th at the 6th Mashariki Literary and Cultural Studies Conference at Makerere University where a panel discussed the various attributes and themes of the novel.
The writer Kyomuhendo shall hold a discussion about her book, exploring her journey from starting a column in the 90s to reprinting the novel almost 30 years later. This shall take place on September 8th, at Goethe-Zentrum Kampala, from 5pm to 7.30pm.