RBC Reviews Tropical Fish : Tales from Entebbe’ by Doreen Baingana

Rainbow Book Club, the organisers of the annual Garden City Literary festival, hosted multi award winning Ugandan author Doreen Baingana in Port Harcourt yesterday, at a reading of her book ‘Tropical Fish : Tales from Entebbe’.

The book is a collection of eight short stories, skilfully interwoven to read like a novel, but yet not losing the immediacy and intensity of a short story, highlights the experiences of three sisters growing up in Entebbe in the 1980’s.

As a Ugandan and onetime resident of Entebbe, I was pleasantly surprised about how accurately Baingana describes the scene and scenery in Uganda at the time. The slang and ‘Ugandan English’ in the book is also spot on, though I was curious to know how the non Ugandan reader would react to this, and sure enough not long into the reading a reader engaged Doreen in a lively banter on the topic, asking why she didn’t include a glossary. Her response was unapologetic for she was of the opinion that since it was not an academic work but fiction a glossary was not really necessary she also wondered why African writers are expected to ‘explain’ themselves whether as nobody demands the same of writers from other parts of the world.

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On how she came up with the title for the book, Doreen explained that she intended the fish as a metaphor for the lives of the three sisters, swimming through life, with its rough and calm water. Tropical fish is also the title of what she referred to as the strongest story of the collection, the one that won the common wealth prize. Explaining her style of writing, Doreen told the audience that adults try to suppress the child in them, but she has found writing as a way to ‘unsupress’ the child in her, this is especially evident in the first story ‘Green stones.’ Having lived in America for seventeen years Doreen said she got tired of the negative depiction of Africa in the news and literature with Tropical Fish she attempts to put the record straight, depicting a middle class African family where the children go to the best schools, with a father that travels abroad frequently and a sister who briefly relocates to America. Though the Mugishas are portrayed as well to do they are not spared the harsh realities of life with alcoholism, sickness and death in the family.

Toni Morrison, her style of writing and choice of themes, political yet expressed in an easy and ‘accessible’ manner to the average reader, is one of the writers that inspires Baingana she also mentioned that she is inspired by the last book she read, as with most authors, a great deal of her reading informs her writing.

Dr. Alabi a rainbow book club member and medical doctor who was the moderator for the session posed the author an interesting question asking how she deals with rejection considering she was a finalist twice for the caine prize but didn’t win, as with all questions Doreen’s answer came readily and sincerely, she said that when she compared with the quality of the other stories that eventually won she didn’t feel cheated and went to say her biggest reward was writing a good sentence.

The reading went on for almost one and half hours and ended with picture taking and book signings, with the author. Friday March 31st was announced as the date for the next reading.

By Daniella Menezor, Member of the Rainbow Book Club

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