The First Woman

Pages: 448
Imprint: Oneworld

The First Woman

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

A dazzling feminist coming of age tale from the award-winning author of Kintu
9781786077882 (1 Oct 2020)
RRP £16.99

The Book

For one young girl, discovering what it means to become a woman in a family, a community and a country determined to silence her will take all the courage she has.

Growing up in a small Ugandan village, Kirabo is surrounded by powerful women. Her grandmother, her aunts, her friends and cousins are all desperate for her to conform, but Kirabo is inquisitive, headstrong and determined. Up until now, she has been perfectly content with her life at the heart of this prosperous extended family, but as she enters her teenage years, she begins to feel the absence of the mother she has never known. The First Woman follows Kirabo on her journey to becoming a young woman and finding her place in the world, as her country is transformed by the bloody dictatorship of Idi Amin.

Jennifer Makumbi has written a sweeping tale of longing and rebellion, at once epic and deeply personal, steeped in an intoxicating mix of ancient Ugandan folklore and modern feminism, that will linger in the memory long after the final page.


Additional Information

Pages 448
Imprint Oneworld


About the Author

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist and short story writer. She has a PhD from Lancaster University. Her first novel, Kintu (Oneworld, 2018), won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. She was awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story 'Let's Tell This Story Properly', which featured in her first short story collection, Manchester Happened (Oneworld, 2019). She was awarded the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction 2018, and lives in Manchester with her husband and son, where she lectures in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.


'The First Woman is captivating, wise, humorous and tender: Makumbi has come back stronger than ever. This is a tale about Kirabo and her family, and her place in the world as she searches for her mother and a true sense of belonging. But most of all, this is a book about the stories that define us, and those we tell to redefine ourselves. A riveting read.'

- Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

'A magnificent blend of Ugandan folklore and more modern notions of feminism... This book is a jewel.'

- Kirkus, starred review

'Ambitious...unapologetically African.'

- The Millions

'Jennifer Makumbi is a genius storyteller.'

- Reni Eddo-Lodge

'Superb. An intoxicating tale that combines mythic and modern elements to make the headiest of feminist brews.'


- Irenosen Okojie, author of Nudibranch

'The First Woman is a wonder, as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself... With wry wisdom, great humor, and deep complexity, Makumbi has created a feminist coming-of-age classic for the ages.' 

- Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

'[An] arresting bildungsroman... Kirabo, a strong, empathetic protagonist, reveals a society where women are routinely pitted against one another or silenced. This beautifully rendered saga is a riveting deconstruction of social perceptions of women's abilities and roles.'

- Publishers Weekly

'Makumbi has told a critical story. With beautifully wrought prose, characters you cannot help but fall in love with, and the bravery to confront the complex issues of society, she gives us a vision of a brighter, stronger, and more equal world.'

- Naomi Benaron, author of Running the Rift

'Magnificent. The First Woman is ambitious and affecting in equal measure. It is that rare thing, a multifaceted novel guaranteed to stay with you long after you read it. Makumbi is indeed a singular talent.'

- Tendai Huchu, author of The Hairdresser of Harare

‘Ugandan literature can boast of an international superstar in Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.'

- Economist

'In The First Woman, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi takes the classic male quest for identity and turns it spectacularly on its head. Kirabo's journey toward self-possession is a beautiful, wise, and exhilarating read.'

- Lily King, author of Writers & Lovers

‘Makumbi writes with the assurance and wry omniscience of an easygoing deity.'

- New York Times

'In her characteristically page-turning and engaging style, Nansubuga lays bare the complex power dynamics of patriarchy, capitalism and neocolonialism, not through academic jargon but via that most effective tool of education - storytelling.  An achingly beautiful tale.'

- Sylvia Tamale, Professor of Law, Makerere University

'What a ride! I feel naked while reading Makumbi—because there is so much history, and cultural nuances packed into her novels... In The First Woman, you will be enamoured by the Ugandan folktales with witches, men and betrayal, or sympathize with the coming of age narrative, or find yourself plunged into patriarchy, colonialism, spread of religion and power dynamics. The First Woman is indefinitely layered.'

- The Book Satchel

'The First Woman is a wonder, as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself - from the "irate noises" of Nnankya's stream to the "theatrical" rains of Nattetta with which Makumbi's women wash, delight, and sate themselves. With wry wisdom, great humor, and deep complexity, Makumbi has created a feminist coming-of-age classic for the ages, sure to join the company of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, and Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan Quartet. Being surrounded by Makumbi's women - young and old - as they each struggle in different ways to clarify and achieve mwenkanonkano, feels like love, feels like learning - and best of all it often feels, as she puts it, 'like mischief'!' 

- Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

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