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Kenyan Animator/Director/Editor Ng'endo Mukii Narrates Her Favourite Reads

Ng'endo Mukii
Thanks to technology, I recently caught up with Nairobi based Kenyan animator/director/filmmaker, Ng'endo Mukii and we talked all things books. She had 3 books to share and boy did she go in? A true storyteller/narrator. There was a moment Ng'endo dramatically acted a scene in one of the books. I'm still in stitches. It was so believable. I wonder whether she's considered acting. Something about our conversation reminded me of Africa's literary gathering, Open Book Festival. How she breaks down the various stories and characters as well as her views on each book is very OBF. Anyway, back to Favourite Reads, I didn't include everything because, spoiler alert you know! I found it so beautiful that she even had the books with her during our chat (aww, Ng'endo, such an overachiever!).

 Usoni (Scenario of a Future - Act 1: Passage from Hell to hell) by Marc Rigaudis
So, this book is by Marc Rigaudis, I met him at Alliance Francaise in Nairobi, he gave it to me,  I found it interesting about this emotional; sometimes unsympathetic heightened discussion about migrants, immigration, refugees and people running from - economic whether economic issues or your life is at stake so you're escaping your country. The book has a really refreshing approach of this idea of escape. Usoni is set in the future (2063), the whole of Europe is in a catastrophe, climate change, there's massive pollution, a series of eruptions of volcanoes - This has happened in the whole of Europe and the ash has covered the sky and it won't move, finding water that is clean is difficult and then there's a time when they don't see the sun.

The main character is African, she was born in France and she has never seen the sun, they live in the sun, everything has to be lit, they don't know the difference between day and night, people are just permanently sick,  She's with her partner who is an older European man, they're trying to escape Europe by boat to get to Northern Africa.  So there are these camps set in the Southern part of Spain, Italy where people are trying to escape but the same police corporations that built huge walls to keep out Africans immigrants have now built the same walls to keep people within Europe.  The corporations who saw this coming started extending into Africa, gradually and to the southern hemisphere they also started building walls around Europe to contain these people in. In the end corporations own everything and they have no allegiance to anything. 

What she took away from this book: There's this stereotype understanding of an African female and an older European man and within this situation, she's the one who has ties back in Africa to get them out of this situation. It sort of inverted this stereotype because generally when people see this kind of relationship they believe that he is the one who allows this lady to access a better life or to access wealth but it is not necessarily the case. And this highlighted that for me. There are somethings I also felt even from a personal level.  Although I found it a bit lecturous {is that a word?).... (laughs)

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is ridiculous, it is amazing; I could'n't stop, I didn't care what work I had to do or whether my food wad was burning or anybody was waiting for me about meeting. I didn't care about anything. It's a 300-page book, I read 70-100 pages a day.... It's a Sci-Fi based in the now and present time there's an alien invasion in Lagos. It is AMAZING, the way this lady writes her lines, the way she draws her characters, the way she reveals their history and their past and their powers is incredible.  How the the different lines come together is brilliant. Like, you learn a lot about Lagos and then there's so much you feel like, wow, that actually  happens in Nairobi all the time. 

It's a critique on society without being preachy which I really enjoyed; you're just allowed to see the way people operate, if you have half a brain you can question why people operate this way? Why do we allow certain institutions to have so much power to dictate the way we live without them caring about who we are as human? It questions the way society works, the church works, this fear of things we don't understand, the way government operates, abuse of power, fear of homosexuality and transgender people. It is packed. The writing is beautiful.  I have never read a book where I feel like I understand how a bat feels when it flies in the sky but I felt like I understood that when I read this book. You feel the, it's like the air is charged and you feel the vibrations in the ground; you are so close to the detail of what's happening. Everything feels so real, the characters are brilliant.

Wizard of The Crow by Ngugi Wa Thiong'o

This was the third time I was trying to read this book. LIFE got in the way of me finishing the book but this time I was determined This is the work of brilliance, right now I'm  even rubbing the pages. These pages brought me so much joy.  

The story is set up in a made up country of 'Aburiria'.  This book is our country, this book is Kenya. I feel like I don't need to watch news or follow politics anymore. Everything that happens is in this book. You follow this guy who becomes a wizard, he ends up getting tied and forced into these political schemes and this huge political mechanism that is just taking over the country, no one can escape it. If you're involved, your wife is involved your children are at stake, people go disappearing it's literally what was happening during the Nyayo Era and these politics were touching everyone directly or indirectly. Again it's this hypocrisy that is in society, all these super religious people, people who call themselves Christians who have no care about stealing billions of shillings eliciting bribes, they visit witch doctors when things are not working but on Sunday they are at the front row of church. And then the way religion and politics are intertwined; then these characters who are trying to fight back against this huge mechanism and they are attacking it from different passes because you're never as big as this thing all you can do is find different weaknesses, pull out of there then run away and hide.   

The thing I love about this book is that it really shows the threat of women's power in a society like Kenya. There's so much hatred for women displayed by all these politically strong men and this idea of patriarchy, all encompassing patriarch -  women are stupid, women should not be allowed much freedom, women should be good wives that stay quiet. And the thing that is breaking down this patriarchal system is being led by women. At some point this guy is beaten up by a group of women because he has beaten his wife and the way other people react is how could he let this happen how does a man get beaten by women.

I feel this book is dangerously written. I felt Lagoon is written in a way that even someone with half a brain is able to question things that happen in society.  I think Ngugi Wa Thiong'o is so subtle with some things that he does because you're able to hear the thoughts of different characters and to see things from their perspective.  If someone who believes in patriarchy, or those who believe in patriarchy read this book from these men's perspectives may not be able to see it, it's so subtle. They might agree with what these men are saying. All these characters are flawed. I enjoyed that mechanism because it shows how volatile this sort of mechanism is.  The magical realism in this book feels so natural; it feels so much integrated in our society.

 What to expect from Ng'endo 

Look out for her film titled This Migrant Business, it's about pressures people feel that make them leave their countries to try go to the Middle East and Europe. It focuses on the smugglers who are involved in this business and how they benefit from it. The film is currently on festival circuit so it's not online yet.

 You can watch the trailer in the meantime

This Migrant Business Trailer from Ng'endo Mukii on Vimeo.

Follow her work on the following platforms

Twitter: @NgendoMukii
Instagram: ngendomukii
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