This article argues that Goretti Kyomuhendo’s Waiting: A Novel of Uganda at War exposes some of the conceptual problems of contemporary human rights discourse. Joseph Slaughter proposes that the Bildungsroman and human rights norms are interdependent, mutually reinforcing, and share underlying assumptions about the relationship between individuals and society. However, if human rights discourse and the Bildungsroman are analogous, this article suggests that Kyomuhendo’s experiments with the form of the Bildungsroman offer a critique of human rights discourse which is more radical than the ambivalent examples Slaughter considers. The article examines the insistent use of familial imagery, and in particular images of blood and birth, in Waiting, and argues that the repeated use of such language is in tension with the conventional logic of the Bildungsroman, in which the plot tends to depend on the movement away from the familial sphere. This tension recalls, in literary terms, a contradiction in conceptualizations of the democratic nation-state which Jacques Derrida explored through analysis of the term ‘fraternity’, and thus indicates the limitations of a version of human rights discourse which centres the nation-state.