Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian novelist, short story writer, essayist, columnist, and photographer. His debut novel “The Eternal Audience Of One” is available from Blackbird Books and Amazon.
He also writes for brainwavez.org, a writing collective based in South Africa. He is the editor-in-chief of Namibia’s first literary magazine: Doek!
His short stories have appeared in Litro Magazine, AFREADA, The Johannesburg Review of Books, The Amistad, The Kalahari Review, American Chordata, Doek!, and Azure.
More of his writing can be read on his website: remythequill.com
We caught up with him to talk about his debut novel The Eternal Audience of One
The story is set in a number of countries with a commentary on their politics. What inspired this transcontinental journey?
I was interested in migration and the way foreign places shape people’s desires, fears, and ambitions. There is an attraction to the foreign when one isn’t happy with their own geographic setting. Another place always seems to be the solution presented to people in such situations, that things might be better if one just leaves. This speaks to the present moment in southern Africa, and the world, with people leaving their home countries in search of “better”, whatever that might mean. In most instances, these “better” places turn out to be a different setting to face the same social, economic, and political issues. In The Eternal Audience Of One, it was interesting to explore the ambitions that drove numerous characters abroad. In particular, I wanted to explore transcontinental migration because it seemed to me that numerous stories centered on migration to the Western world. Having never experienced that myself, it was more comfortable and more rewarding to explore it on the African continent.
There is an exploration of difficult relationships between children and parents. Tell us more about what this exploration meant?
I’ve never been the child of a citizen—a fully enfranchised member of society with a clear sense of belonging. I’m the child of immigrant parents, some of the most challenging parents to have because they constantly strive to provide you with a life they’re aware they never had, and they try to raise you to be an independent and enfranchised member of society, even as they are denied those same freedoms. The exploration of those child-parent relationship was quite challenging, because it involved confronting the narrow lives such parents have to live in order to provide for their children. But to confront such immigrant indignities on paper felt representative, like people would know, somewhat, what it’s like to be from somewhere else and to try to make a decent life despite facing numerous hardships.
It took 7 years for this book to be written. What was the process of writing?
I’d be flattered if this book took seven years to write. I’d use that as a marketing tool to really sell the hardship I had to endure. Alas, it took about two years to write. I’d been dreaming of the story in bits and pieces for about four years, and parts of it were in notebooks and scraps of paper. But it really coalesced into something workable after I read Zadie Smith’s On Beauty and Marlon James’s Brief History Of Seven Killings. Smith had a sense of humour and a narrator I admired, and James showed me what was achievable in a novel. After reading those two books, I sat down, collected all of my ideas together and started the difficult process of plotting and imbuing characters with autonomy. The rest of the writing process was clearer after that: read and research, create a workable writing schedule (I have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet), and to stay determined and hopeful.
The book is divided into three very separate parts. What was the importance of this as a literary device?
The three parts, to me, were a way of organising my thoughts, separating geographies and histories. They were also a way to allow me to make decisive breaks between certain character actions, and to show how regardless of section breaks, or time spans, the consequences of actions can show up much later. I rather liked the idea of having three separately titled parts, an idea I’m glad my publisher liked too. Each part is also anchored around a particular Rwandan proverb that weaves itself into the narrative. The power of those proverbs, though, is for the reader to decide.
There’s a ‘Great Plan’ spoken of in this novel. Take us through it?
The immigrant dream is to land in a place, secure work and an income, find love if one doesn’t have it, gain a foothold in society, and then, hopefully, build towards a new and better life. So they do what they are told they must in order to secure this better life: work harder than everyone else, study harder than everyone else, gain as many qualifications as possible, and try to find work in the most respected professions (engineering, medicine, law, and finance). The belief is that if they do this, then they’ll be fine and that their children will live better lives. This Great Plan is rarely fulfilled, though. Especially with children because they have their own dreams, their own ambitions. The irony is that this Great Plan isn’t that great at all, because it doesn’t work for the local citizen. Personally, I’m not sure how I managed to let my parents pursue a career in writing, but I think that speaks volumes about them as parents because they were brave enough to let me follow my own stars.
The book has been well-received in South Africa, has it been well received in Namibia?
I don’t think many books about home are well-received by the people back home because there is a sense that things which shouldn’t be aired are being put out on the public washing line. There’s a sense of invasion, especially when the topics or themes being explored are unsavoury, and they are voiced by someone who’s considered to be an outsider—like me, I’m Rwandan by birth but Namibian by duration and naturalisation. So there are some who don’t consider The Eternal Audience Of One to be an authentic Namibian story because I’m “not really Namibian anyway.” This kind of sentiment is much stronger from places that aren’t subjected to literary scrutiny. So, the Namibian reception is mixed—there are many who think it was high time a story about Namibia was written, and there are others who would’ve preferred a different book about Namibia to be written.
You were at the Open Book Festival and South African book festival, share your experience with us?
The Open Book Festival was hands down, so affirming to me as a reader and a writer. It was unreal to be around people who enjoy the art of storytelling so much they’re willing to put their economic resources to host a whole festival for it. Being a reader, and meeting other readers with different reading interests was a connective experience. Few things compare to sharing reading recommendations with people who like books as much as you do. As a debut author, it was comforting to be welcomed by other authors and seasoned writers. I learned much from them about the craft of writing and the responsibilities that writers carry. I’ve made friends that will be the recipients of long emails in the days to come.
What is next for Rémy?
As a writer: to continue pursuing a lifestyle that permits me to write and keep a roof over my head. I’m working on a collection of short stories that have been well received—eight have been picked up this year alone—and getting into shape for the next long writing project.
As a reader: to immerse myself more in this activity that has always been welcoming and comforting. I have a long list of books to read and time is my only enemy.
Follow Rémy on social media @remythequill