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Booker International Longlist 2021 – The Perfect Nine by Ngugi wa Thiong’o

14. Ngugi Wa Thiongo - The Perfect Nine -The Epic of Gikuyu and Mumbi 2

Booker International Longlist Book 7 rated by panellists Tracy & BookWorm

The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gikuyu and Mumbi
Translated by the author from Gikuyu
Published by VINTAGE, Harvill Secker

Details from the official Booker Site: Blending folklore, mythology and allegory, The Perfect Nine chronicles the adventures of Gikuyu and Mumbi, and how their brave daughters became the matriarchs of the Gikuyu clans. Gikuyu and Mumbi settled on the peaceful and bounteous foot of Mount Kenya after fleeing war and hunger. When 99 suitors arrive on their land, seeking to marry their famously beautiful daughters, called The Perfect Nine, the parents ask their daughters to choose for themselves, but to choose wisely.

First the young women must embark on a treacherous quest with the suitors, to find a magical cure for their youngest sister, Warigia, who cannot walk. As they journey up the mountain, the number of suitors diminishes and the sisters put their sharp minds and bold hearts to the test, conquering fear, doubt, hunger and many menacing ogres, as they attempt to return home. But it is perhaps Warigia’s unexpected adventure that will be most challenging of all.

About the Author

Ngugi wa Thiong’o is one of the leading writers and scholars at work in the world today. His books include the novels Petals of Blood, for which he was imprisoned by the Kenyan government in 1977, A Grain of Wheat and Wizard of the Crow; the memoirs, Dreams in a Time of War, In the House of the Interpreter and Birth of a Dream Weaver; and the essays, Decolonizing the Mind, Something Torn and New and Globalectics. Recipient of many honours, among them ten honorary doctorates, he is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine.

Tracy’s Thoughts: This short book is a fairy tale/origin tale. Ninety-nine suitors show up for the hands of nine sisters, and the sisters must choose their mates wisely. A quest or two follows, with supernatural beings, perils, and such. The end result is the founding of the Gikuyu clans (not a spoiler!)

Ngugi has the amazing ability to tell a story- his written words pop off the page- begging to be read aloud. I did listen to the audiobook for this one, and I appreciated it so much more than I may have if I’d read it.

It’s nice to see a veteran writer on the International Booker list. I enjoy how he takes an origin story and makes it a feminist tale, as well as more accessible to those of us who need to learn more about the world’s stories.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: ¾
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

BookWorm’s Thoughts:  While I was reading this I kept having flashbacks to the Chinese epic Monkey – Journey to the West. What this book shows is that you can tell an epic creation story in just over 200 pages, it also shows less is more.  With Monkey we go through the same situations time and time again this book cuts it down to the events we need to know about.

Unlike Tracy I read the print copy and I have to say this is a thing of beauty the poetry that Tracy heard can be seen in the layout of the pages and the picture used to separate each chapter is gorgeous as well as thought provoking (I am still trying to understand the full significance)

Tracy mentions the feminist aspect of this book there is also an important disability aspect , the author handles this well and the overwhelming message from the book is be who you are there is no-one better. This is the kind of positive messaging we need more of.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 3/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 15/20

At Night all Blood is Black 18/20
The Dangers of Smoking in Bed 18/20
Summer Brother 17.5/20
The Pear Field 17/20
The Employees 16/20
The Perfect Nine 16/20
The War of the Poor 11.25/20

Have you read this one? What did you think?

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