Reading and Remembering Africa

John Donelson

*Taught and traveled widely in Africa, now lives in America

In the age of, and other online book service, the book market is wide open. With money to spare one can sample as never before the book offerings of the world. I have been indulging my pleasure and doing just that. And I ran across this this amazing new novel, Burden of Failure, by a Ugandan author.

As a former American Peace Corps teacher in Africa, I read this book with added interest. It records and discusses many of the things I saw and experienced while I was there. The immense pressure on students to pass the single exam at the end of their schooling, the constant struggle to pay school fees, the poverty of the many, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the corruption practiced by certain officials. The book is much more than a catalog of the hardships of growing up poor in Africa. The book is ultimately a tribute to the human spirit.

The main character in the story, Peter Otim, unexpectedly fails the end of school exams, which completely turns his world upside down. And he must face the shame and consequences. Hence, the Burden of Failure. He must find a place to live, find the means of supporting himself in the city, and find a way of maintaining his self-esteem while at the same time trying to preserve the love of his academically successful girlfriend.

After navigating through real difficult times and some really bad steps they took, he and a handful of friends work out an honest way to make a living by dint of hard work alone. They face many challenges along the way but they stick it out and become at last a success. The writer does a good job of blending optimism and near despair. We get a peek at titbits of local culture against the background of politically turbulent times. The story ends with a dream that just about leaves the future uncertain, a conceptual metaphor for us all. I recommend this well-written book to anyone remotely interested in humanity and Africa.