Reading Flame And Song is an emotional experience, and I found myself hooting with laughter, before wiping away unbidden tears. The author writes in a way that draws you in, and demands that you feel the way she feels, every step of the way. I had a difficult time putting it down, even when I had so many other things to do. Rather than a mere recount of a life, it is a history book as seen through the eyes of a real person, one who lived between the pages.
The author, having been born soon after Uganda attained her independence, brings to life the experiences of Uganda. First, there is the calm before the storm – soon after independence, the quiet organized life of a civil servant’s young family. This soon escalates into the chaos of the Idi Amin days. You will find that her apprehension fills your gut as you read about the close calls they had with the mercurial and brutal authorities. When the family flees into exile, you will have the privilege of moving with the author to different foreign lands, and, later, experience the sweet euphoria of coming home. The chapter about loss will, sadly, leave you heartbroken, having a hard time saying goodbye to the people that have now become loved characters.
I loved the book for its intricate weaving of sweet poetry with simple flowing prose. In some ways, it is an anthology with long explanatory notes. In others, it is a group of stories that transitions into poems when the emotion gets visceral. I had high expectations when I discovered that the author was born to Henry Barlow, the poet known most for “Building the Nation”. After reading this book, Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa is, indeed, her father’s daughter, despite the surname difference.
Even more profound, is the “child-like” manner in which the story is told. It is evident that the author maintains her memories in pristine form, the years of hardships unable to wipe away the happy times. So, you will find yourself growing with her from the protected and loved child to the woman she later becomes.
In many ways, the book is political: showing the lived experiences of ordinary people living through the changing times. As a memoir, it has the power of truth behind it to pass across important messages like care for the disabled and the debilitating state of healthcare in Uganda.
I would highly recommend this book, and I think it is all the encouragement we need to immortalize our own stories by writing them down.
This review of Philippa Namutebi Kabali-Kagwa’s Flame And Song is prepared by Ophelia Kemigisha for Turn The Page. Flame And Song is a 2017 publication, by Sooo Many Stories. It is available on Turn The Page’s online bookshop for distribution and delivery worldwide.