Reading Remy Ngamije

Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. He is the founder, chairperson, and artministrator of Doek, an independent organisation in Namibia supporting the literary arts. He is also co-founder and editor-in-chief of Doek! literary magazine, Namibia’s first and only literary magazine.

I’ve been a fan of his since I read his short story, The Giver of Nicknames on Lolwe last year. This year alone Remy has been shortlisted for the Afritondo short story prize, the Commonwealth short story prize (of which he is the current Regional winner for Africa) and the AKO Caine short story prize—the biggest literary prize out of Africa. Big flex!

The stories I read are The Giver of Nicknames, Granddaughter of The Octopus, Suikerbossie, Dankie Botswana (or Semper Fi), Nine Months Since Forever, ‘Sofa, So Good, Sort of (or John Muafangejo)’, Figure of Preach and Love is a Neglected Thing (or Corinthians).

Let me tell you of Remy’s writing style. It’s different. Definitely different from what you would read from other African authors.

His writing isn’t so serious. I feel like that’s a weak adjective to associate with a piece of writing but it’s true. If Remy’s writing were an outfit, they’d be denims and a white tee. If they were an ice cream flavor, they’d be vanilla.

His stories come off to me as quite simple and regular. They won’t fill you with wonder or leave you with some grand question on life. They are comfortable stories with comfortable characters. You can definitely identify with or see someone you have watched on TV in the characters Remy writes about. This isn’t a bad thing at all. In fact, I love it.

In this literary thing, you’ll come across all gradients of melancholy. Depressing stories. Stories about violence and trauma. Stories that tell you this world has gone to shit in very grand ways. And yes, this world, it has definitely gone to shit. But Remy’s stories, comfortable and loving as they are, won’t tell you that until they’ve made you laugh and smile and scream from the shock of it all. His stories leave you feeling… all kinds of things. Happiness. Sadness. Shock. Euphoria.

Prime example for me is The Giver of Nicknames. It’s a story about youth, ignorance and vice, basically on the ugly before the beautiful. A school bully for whom we have no name (ironically), yet to see himself as the bully he is (they never do), goes on about making life a nightmare for his fellow classmates and giving them hurtful nicknames. Hence, Giver of Nicknames. And like most things in secondary schools, the nicknames are contagious. Soon, everyone is saying it.

The Giver of Nicknames realizes the role he played in the ruin of some of his classmates in the course of the story. There’s a suicide and rape. Overall, it’s a sad story.
However, Remy goes the completely different route in telling it. There’s this characteristic wittiness and joviality with the way Remy tells his stories and it’s no different in this one. One second, he’s making you laugh, the next second you’re concerned, the next you’re livid. I think it’s commendable the way he’s able to keep the reader spellbound and bring out such reactions.

I love the way Remy incorporates so many different languages into his stories.

It’s one of the reasons my favorite story of his is Dankie Botswana or Semper Fi, which is Latin and the English equivalent of “always faithful.” Dankie Botswana is a story within a bigger story. The bigger story is something of a scattered collection. There are three stories, Nine Months since Forever, ‘Sofa, So Good, Sort of (or John Muafangejo)’ and Love is a Neglected Thing (or Corinthians), tethered to Dankie Botswana. They are different faces of the same story, but work perfectly as individual stories themselves. It’s complicated but if you pay it your attention it’s worth the read.

The collection follows the life of a man named John Muafangejo (this is my hypothesis as it’s not explicitly written that these stories are in fact tied together or that this is the main character’s name). In Dankie Botswana, John (again, hypothesis) enjoys a cab-ride with his drunk friend Rinzlo. Rinzlo is the stereotypical sweet talker, douche bag, no-good cheating bum we all love on paper but never in person. He’s drunk as a skunk and it’s the night the unforgettable Brazil-Germany 2016 FIFA World Cup Match. They are on their way to Rinzlo’s apartment to watch the match when John, acutely aware of Rinzlo’s drunkenness, begins to question the significance of their friendship.

In Sofa, So Good, Sort of which is a collection within the “collection” (yes, Remy did that), there are six stories that weirdly all have something to do with some type of a chair: The Ottoman and His Lieutenant, Daddy’s Armchair, The Loveseat, The Stroke That Broke The Camelback (go figure), Chesterfield Sleep and John Muafangejo. The collection, as I said before, follows the life of John; the ups and downs, heartbreak, love, marriage, friendship and all. The story meets John at different points in his life and so the reader doesn’t get the full picture. Just enough to make it all make sense. And the fun is actually in making it all make sense. It’s like a giant jigsaw puzzle of stories.

Granddaughter of the octopus is Remy’s most recent publication and is the Commonwealth Regional Prize Winning story. It’s definitely one worth its merit. There are so many lines and fragments of this story that are beautiful and make you want to pause, think and meditate.

The story centres on a grandmother, the matriarch of the family, who has been married to eight men and has eight sons from those marriages. It’s narrated by the woman’s granddaughter. In the story, the granddaughter recounts all her grandmother’s marriages, giving life-lessons on love, marriage and man-woman relations. I’m always scared when a man decides to tell a woman’s story. Nine times out of ten it’s going to be inaccurate or unrealistic or just so trash. But this was good. Better than good even. I don’t think a woman could’ve written it any better.

Figures of Preach (which is so aptly titled—Remy is so good with titles!) is a flash fiction story which reads sort of like a reported speech. It’s something that you have to read to understand though. It is hilarious.
Same goes for his story Suikerbossie, Afrikaans for Sugarbush, which is a term of endearment meaning Sweetie. Again, the language of it all. Suikerbossie is equally hilarious. It’s about a man cycling his way up a hill. There are so many cheesy, cliché lines in this story. You’re bound to laugh before its end.

I can’t wait to read whatever Remy puts out next. I’m sure it’s going to get me cracking. Judging by his stories, I’d say Remy is a nice guy, lady’s man, home-bug. Remy’s the kind of writer that just wants you to have a good time when you are in communion with his words. He is the type of writer I need more of on my shelf.

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Amarachi Ike writes from Enugu, where she is currently studying Medicine at the University of Nigeria. She is an essayist, fiction writer, blogger and aspiring author.

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