THE PLOT: “Manchester Happened” by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a short story collection about Ugandan immigrants. Structured in two parts; “departing” and “returning”, it weaves between Manchester and Kampala as characters ultimately decide whether to stay or go. From a man in the 1950’s who is reluctant to leave England without his mixed-race child, to a woman in an unhappy marriage who is dependent upon her spouses’ visa, the stories are varied and complex. Yet each one is unique and exquisitely written in this masterpiece of a collection.
RATING: This is a five-star short story collection and I challenge anyone who thinks differently to a fight! But seriously, I sped through the whole book because it was a delight to read. The writing was rich and descriptive, witty and clever. The characters were complex yet instantly won me over. I’d highly recommend this collection and the author’s novel, ‘Kintu’, is going straight on my TBR.
GOOD BITS: My favourite stories were the two sets of “Airport Diaries”. The character of Poonah was wonderful and it was lovely to get to see her twice in the book (both in “departing” and “returning”). In particular the second story, where a British-Ugandan boy undergoes a male circumcision ritual was very clever and surprisingly funny. Additionally, I enjoyed ‘Memoirs of a Namaaso’, which is written from the point of view of a dog. I would usually find this sort of thing gimmicky, but the author’s skill makes it feel natural.
Aside from these, my favourite stories were: ‘Our Allies the Colonies’, ‘My Brother, Bwemage’ and ‘Lets Tell This Story Properly’, but it was hard to choose because every story was well-written and engaging.
NOT SO GOOD BITS: Not applicable.
OVERALL: I’d highly recommend this collection to short story lovers everywhere. It’s perfect if you’re a fan of ‘How to Love a Jamaican’ by Alexia Arthurs, ‘We Are All Birds of Uganda’ by Hafsa Zayyan and ‘The Good Immigrant’ edited by Nikesh Shukla. Whether you know a lot or a little about Uganda, these lovable stories will make your heart soar.