Originally posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2011 at 12:47
It is eighty four pages long, but it is a comprehensive tale of death, disillusionment, suffering, love, hope, grace and happiness. Ntakky A Bright’s first book does not only have a peculiar title, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” which would easily pass for a movie title but also tells a story very common with Christian writers but in a uniquely witty and cheeky style.
I have known Bright A Ntakky (the A for Arinaitwe), since our school times at Kigezi High School. We did more than study together at the school, we at one time stayed in the same house – Lwamafa House. In 2003, when The Inspiration magazine and ministry was founded, Bright was among the formidable team members that made it possible, drawing hilarious cartoons for the magazine and on one occasion participating in a drama performance of the group (I was once a preacher of the gospel, you see and my first play script was a Christian drama).
Bright was more than that at school, he was our deputy Head Prefect, the chairperson Scripture Union and had several other community oriented roles. Bright’s Head Prefect-ship campaign is one of the most successful I have ever been at the centre of. He was an easily saleable and likeable candidate, the content of his character being the core of our message. Bright amazingly and annoyingly volunteered on the campaign team of his opponent out of his brotherly love and friendship a day to the polls, as many from far and wide made sacrifices to see him (Bright) win the election. I can go on and on about the amazing character Bright is but today is for his debut novella, “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” not his personality.
Bishop Zac Niringiye in a foreword to the book writes that “7:77 … theirs was a race against time”, is a story of ordinary people in ordinary circumstances, gripping because it is your story and my story, our story hence ordinary. Bright however manages to tell an ordinary story extra-ordinarily. Bright, the writer inherits the humorous nerve; Bright the personality is known for. He employs his descriptive signature style in the novella so much that reading the book in many ways becomes a conversation with the person.
At page 47-48, he writes of Amnon’s shoes, “His shoes were looking up and glorifying God for the many seasons they had endured. One was breathing from the side and the other would drink water from the sole”. Typical hilarious Bright, if you ask those who have talked to the man. It is not only Bright’s distinctive expression that creates a conversational mood; he actually talks directly to the reader at several moments in the book. As early as page 2, he writes; “Slowly, he pulled a lollipop out of his shirt pocket and put it in her mouth, then rubbed it across her lips. They kissed. (Reader, continue reading. Stop imagining).”
“7:77 … theirs was a race against time” starts with a graphic narrative of an adolescent romantic scene, hence Bright’s warning. Bright goes a step ahead of other Christian writers who gloss over love-scenes and deny them any descriptive touch. Of course he has limits, I would not X-rate his novella, he keeps the descriptions rich but decent enough not to distract the reader, and to be sure he warns the reader to stop imagining.
The use of anecdotes is not lost on Bright. At page 60, he writes;
He remembered a story of a man who died and his family was denied gratuity, because the officials reasoned that since there was nothing to show that the man had lived, then most probably he had not existed at all and therefore might as well have never died.
Death is undoubtedly one of the re-occurring themes in the novella. It is the hovering shadow over the moments of happiness, triumph, excitement and glory in the book. Probably aware of the risk of monotony, Bright’s depiction of death is varied and unique, though the use of epitaphs is persistent. In fact, the novella ends with an epitaph, marking the death of the novella’s protagonist. “This tablet in-laid here by his relatives and friends, in loving memory of Ijuka Brave, Died on 31st, Dec 2023 on his 29th birthday. He’s interred in the city cemetery.”
That I bring up how the book ends on a sad note is not fair at all. The book has its own worthwhile moments of happiness, hope, grace, triumph and excitement. The description of Dove, a childhood friend of Brave, the major act of the novella is one of the good moments. Bright writes at page 66,
Her silk hair flowed over her shoulders like a water fall. Her elliptical lips opened to reveal a perfect set of snow white teeth. Her body was a pure work of art, chiseled to perfection, nooks and cervices in all the right places. There was no extra ounce of flesh on her adorable body. Her cheery smile could easily light up any room, however dark. She made every man who set his eyes on her miss a step. If such a man was holding a cup in her hand, he would put it on his nose instead of the mouth.
Like any other Christian book, the core message in “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is the love of Christ for mankind and the ordinary stories of ordinary people as Zac Niringiye writes. Bright however manages to make the novella less preachy and witty enough for a non-Christian reader to enjoy without being bored. It is a good start for Bright as a writer as he finds a common ground between secular fiction and Christian literature.
To Primah Atugonza, whose copy of the book I have read, twice so far, I am grateful. To Bright A Ntakky, where can I get copies of the book? I want to have some on my shelf for refreshing reading and also to give as gifts to friends. “7:77 … theirs was a race against time” is a book for everyone, Christian or non-Christian.
As part of the #UgBlogWeek, for November I am re-posting excerpts from, reviews of and commentaries on Ugandan books. These posts were originally written five years ago (2011) and shared on Facebook. There will be one post per day, throughout the #UgBlogWeek, to reminisce on my deliberate focus on Ugandan Literature in 2011, and also as a shout-out to the intellectual labourers who make our society richer with their work. This is the fourth post.