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"Abyssinian Chronicles" mines the political and personal upheaval in Uganda.

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Political and Personal Upheaval
"Abyssinian Chronicles," by Moses Isegawa (Knopf, $26) is a novel that retells the story of the series of upheavals and political transformations that swept through Uganda over three decades. The story is narrated by Mugezi, who manages to persevere despite a disrupted childhood punctuated by unspeakable brutality, unreasonable expectations and callous disregard.

Mugezi's first eight years are spent in the home of his grandfather, a deposed clan chieftain in a rural village in an Ugandan province. There, Mugezi learns the heritage of his clan and is encouraged in his education.

At the age of 9, he is reclaimed by his parents and brought to live in the city of Kampala. It is there that Mugezi is subjected to an unyielding harshness at the hands of his mother and to a trampling of his self-esteem that will take years for him to restore. His mother, Padlock, rules her house with an uncompromising irrational discipline. His father, Serenity, is an ineffectual eldest son, who has been unable to recapture the past prominence of his father's clan. Mugezi soon develops a cunning instinct for survival in order to escape the never-ending barrage of his mother's punishments.

The author uses Mugezi's hardships to effortlessly parallel the pangs of uncertainty that will affect Uganda's political landscape. When the ruling president is deposed in favor of the charismatic Idi Amin, Mugezi's spirits soar with the prospect of personal and national liberation. As Amin's regime plunges further into dangerous, unstable behavior, those dreams deteriorate as well. The reader will witness, through Mugezi's perceptions, the constant shifts in Uganda's power base and will see Mugezi adjust and reinvent his own personality. Mugezi, through the course of this novel, becomes a guerilla activist, teacher, law student and eventually emigrates to Amsterdam.

"Abyssinian Chronicles" exerts a passion that is sobering in its realism. As both Mugezi and his country exist in a constant state of emotional siege, the reader will be appalled at the indignities committed in the name of politics and religion. The book illustrates how Mugezi and Uganda both slowly extricate themselves from past injustices and evolve to personify a glorious victory.

— Bruce Simon

Richmond is Reading
Tim Kaine, Richmond's mayor, is enthusiastic about four books:

"Beyond Category" by John Edward Hasse — A biography of Duke Ellington, it includes also an analysis of his music. Much of the focus is on the complexity of the task of being a band leader.

"Damascus Gate" by Robert Stone — This was especially interesting to Kaine because he has been to Jerusalem. The book is a millennial novel set in a millennial city, a spy thriller that includes a diversity of religious viewpoints.

"Out of Place" by Edward Said — A memoir of Said's growing up, it includes reflection on this period of history observed as a member of a Palestinian family.

"Vera" by Stacy Schiff — A biography of Vladimir Nabokov's wife, herself a fascinating person. This was especially interesting to Kaine because he loves Nabokov's writing.

Mary Lloyd Parks, Style book reviewer, recommends "Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures," by All Things Considered (NPR) host Noah Adams. The book is an account of his yearlong effort to learn to play jazz piano, at age 50. Lightly told and fun to read.

"Fortune's Daughter," by Isabel Allende — Lovely, descriptive prose and a semi-compelling story of love and adventure. A nice beach book — not completely satisfying when all is said and done.

Tom Word, lawyer and writer, has just finished reading two books about the Civil War by Howard Bahr: "The Year of Jubilo" and "The Black Flower." Bahr was the curator of Faulkner place in Mississippi and is a superb writer.

— Rozanne Epps

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