VERA SPILLS THE BEANS: A Review by Gloria Dei Acham

Orature Collective performed an excerpt from Whispers from Vera at the NIBF
Orature Collective performs an excerpt from Whispers from Vera at the 24th edition of the Nairobi International Book Fair conducted from September 27th to October 1st, at the Sarit Centre Expo Hall, Westlands, Nairobi.

Goretti Kyomuhendo, a well-known novelist in Uganda, has yet again proved her prowess as a storyteller by expanding her novella Whispers from Vera into a novel. The 20 year anniversary novel is a woman centred narrative that seems fresher than it even was when it made its debut! Reading this novel, I was intrigued by how passages presented in the novella sounded like new additions! I move to declare that the foresightedness of the novelist makes this novel an exceptional read. 

The novel is mind blowing, exhilarating and filled with vibrant humour. Vera, the protagonist, is in charge of her voice and experiences. In particular instances she tells the story of her women friends and relatives. The novel is loud about the limitations patriarchy imposes upon women, and the women’s determination and desire to protest and to do away with this hegemonic power. Vera, without overtly stating it becomes a conspicuous ‘matriot’ who affirms her right to exist, to survive and to overcome. The word ‘matriot’ was coined by Micere Mugo to counterbalance the word patriot and to map out the epic journey of women’s struggles and triumphs. 

Whispers from Vera places the reader right at the center of young Vera’s day to day life especially after university. She is a candid, fore-sighted, passionate and hard-working young woman. Written in the first person, this story reads like a thriller with Vera’s revelation of her experiences and friendships, as well as encounters with other women in and beyond her immediate family, creating a culturally subversive tale. It’s a tale full of carefully crafted stories of untold secrets and longings exposed only because Vera and her friends take centre-stage in this novel. This technique makes the novel inexhaustible, involving deep introspection and constant questioning of events. The readers are literally in Vera’s head, making the story read like a diary. 

Vera is unafraid to talk about her dating experiences, her yearnings and the pressures mounting from various circles because she is 29 years old and still single. Forthright in her revelations, Vera unravels a roller coaster of challenges intertwined with new experiences, which sets her up as a fearless, bold and sometimes complicit person in a society that is entangled in the chains of patriarchy and of late, capitalism. 

What is most captivating about this book is its intense use of subtle irony that keeps leaping constantly from its pages. In one chapter, Vera will swear against something and in the very next chapter she does the direct opposite. This is exactly what makes this novel credible and Vera’s character so enigmatic.

 Whispers from Vera amplifies the importance of past experiences, friendships, marriage, children and work. It also hinges on the contemporary aspects of society like the wealthy getting their way anywhere, the biting economic times, separation, family intrusion and questions some arms of culture and tradition, making it pulsate with life with all its victories and contradictions.

 One of the most fascinating things about this novel, without giving everything away is the mixing of English and the local language. Vera tends, in tense situations, to exclaim in the local language, particularly Luganda, a device that amplifies the emotional stress, shock and uncertainty she is experiencing at that moment. For example, in this instance:

 “Today, I confronted Eric about the issues that have been bothering me for the past four months. If I tell you death would have been better than what I found out, I wouldn’t be exaggerating.” Mukama!

 It is a novel that will make you smirk in astonishment, create anxiety, steal a loud laugh and get you maddeningly angry but through it all, leave a glimmer of hope that there’s always a silver lining at the end of every hiccup that makes way into your life. 

Whispers from Vera offers a vibrant analysis of society through Vera’s eyes and voice and thus makes this novel an important contribution to the debate on women’s experiences and survival. The novel demonstrates that life is complex and full of uncertainties. It is this portrayal that won me over as a reader. I want to claim that it made me think more proactively about contemporary life and the woman’s position. Pick yourself a copy and see what you think.

Copies are available at Tubaze African Books, African Writers Trust, Aristock Bookshop and Uganda Bookshop.

 Gloria Dei Acham is a teacher of English Language and Literature at Mt. St. Mary’s College Namagunga, Mukono, Uganda.

Goretti Kyomuhendo is a Ugandan novelist and short story writer. Her published novels include The First Daughter (1996), Secrets No More (1999), Sara and the Boy Soldier (2000), Waiting: A Novel of Uganda’s Hidden War (2007) and Whispers from Vera (2023) .She is the founder and director of African Writers Trust and Tubaze African Books.

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