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Cover for A Girl is A Body of Water

A Girl is A Body of Water

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi


List Price: 27.95*
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Other Editions of This Title:
Digital Audiobook (9/7/2020)
Paperback (6/15/2021)


“Makumbi is such an honest, truthful writer. . . . I loved every single page.” —Tayari Jones, author of An American Marriage

A Best Book of the Year at TIMEThe Washington PostO, the Oprah Magazine; BBC

Winner of the Jhalak Prize

In her thirteenth year, Kirabo confronts a piercing question: who is my mother? Kirabo has been raised by women in the small Ugandan village of Nattetta—her grandmother, her best friend, and her many aunts—but the absence of her mother follows her like a shadow. Seeking answers from Nsuuta, the local witch, Kirabo learns about the woman who birthed her, who she discovers is alive but not ready to meet. Nsuuta also helps Kirabo understand the emergence of a mysterious second self, a headstrong and confusing force inside her—this, says Nsuuta, is a streak of the “first woman”: an independent, original state that has been all but lost to women.

Kirabo’s journey to reconcile these feelings, alongside her desire to reconnect with her mother and to honor her family’s expectations, is rich in the folklore of Uganda and an arresting exploration of what it means to be a modern girl in a world that seems determined to silence women. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s A Girl is a Body of Water is an unforgettable, sweeping testament to the true and lasting connections between history, tradition, family, friends, and the promise of a different future.

Praise For A Girl is A Body of Water

— The New York Times Book Review

— The Washington Post

— O, The Oprah Magazine


— Lily King, author of Writers & Lovers

— Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

— Viet Thanh Nguyen, author of The Committed

A wonder—as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself.
— Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

A novel bursting with resilience and warmth. . . . Mixing the mythic and the modern, happily ignoring formal neatness to encompass Uganda’s miscellaneousness, it’s an enthralling achievement.
— Sunday Times

At turns rapturous and devastating. . . . Makumbi's writing uplifts and inspires, evoking the grand tradition of folklore and stories passed down, one woman to the next.
— Refinery29

— World Literature Today

Makumbi’s rich language and detailed descriptions are a must-read.
— HelloGiggles

Kirabo's journey of self-discovery is at once inspiring and epic.
— PopSugar

A magnificent blend of Ugandan folklore and more modern notions of feminism. . . . This book is a jewel.
— Kirkus, Starred Review

With each new work, Makumbi cements her position as a writer of great influence in our time and for future generations.
— Booklist, Starred Review

This beautifully rendered saga is a riveting deconstruction of social perceptions of women’s abilities and roles.
— Publishers Weekly

Bewitching. . . . Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a mesmerizing storyteller, slowly pulling readers in with a captivating cast of multifaceted characters and a soupçon of magical realism guaranteed to appeal to fans of Isabel Allende, Julia Alvarez, or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing.

— Library Journal

Superb. An intoxicating tale that combines mythic and modern elements to make the headiest of feminist brews.
— Irenosen Okojie, author of Nudibranch

In her characteristically page-turning and engaging style, Makumbi lays bare the complex power dynamics of patriarchy, capitalism and neocolonialism, not through academic jargon but via that most effective tool of education—storytelling. An achingly beautiful tale.
— Sylvia Tamale

Tin House Books, 9781951142049, 560pp.

Publication Date: September 1, 2020

About the Author

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize and her first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani? Manuscript Project Prize in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. Her story “Let’s Tell This Story Properly” was the global winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Jennifer lives in Manchester, UK with her husband and son.

Conversation Starters from

1. What do the origin stories in A Girl Is a Body of Water tell us about the powers of storytelling or the power given to those who create foundational myths and folklore? Why do you think Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi reclaims mythology for women in the narrative?

2. Women inform much of the action in the novel; how do they work together (or against each other) throughout the novel?

3. Uganda itself emerges as a character in the book. How did the setting and its history inform your reading of the novel? Did you consult a map at any point? Were you curious to read more about Uganda’s history?

4. What role do family secrets and gossip play in this novel? Are there ways in which village gossip unearths truth, or is it always damaging?

5. Discuss the ways in which Makumbi reveals the differences in social class among her characters. What are the different cultural assumptions Kirabo encounters—the girls she meets at boarding school, the family she lives with in the city with her father, and those of the citizens in the small village of Natteta?

6. How do you think this novel would be different if it was written from Giibwa’s perspective? Are there things she understands that Kirabo doesn’t, and vice-versa?

7. Makumbi dedicates A Girl Is a Body of Water to her grandmothers, and Kirabo has many maternal figures in the novel. How is motherhood and maternal care portrayed in this novel?

8. What was it like to be immersed in Makumbi’s inventive writing style and the way she weaves different languages throughout the prose? What sets A Girl Is a Body of Water apart from other multi-generational family sagas you have read?

9. Describe the various portrayals of marriage in the novel. What are some similarities or differences you see across generations?

10. Kirabo comes of age over the course of the novel, but she’s not the only one who experiences great change. What characters change the most in your opinion?