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The Eternal Audience of One

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The Eternal Audience of One is laugh-out-loud funny with writing that is sometimes so beautiful that it dances off the page—to a millennial beat—in perfect tempo with its tales of migration, love, loss, and friendship.—Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of In Dependence

Reminiscent of Zadie Smith and Michael Chabon, thisgorgeous, wildly funny and, above all, profoundly moving and humane” (Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here) coming-of-age tale follows a young man who is forced to flee his homeland of Rwanda during the Civil War and make sense of his reality.

Nobody ever makes it to the start of a story, not even the people in it. The most one can do is make some sort of start and then work toward some kind of ending.

One might as well start with Séraphin: playlist-maker, nerd-jock hybrid, self-appointed merchant of cool, Rwandan, stifled and living in Windhoek, Namibia. Soon he will leave the confines of his family life for the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town, in South Africa, where loyal friends, hormone-saturated parties, adventurous conquests, and race controversies await. More than that, his long-awaited final year in law school promises to deliver a crucial puzzle piece of the Great Plan immigrant: a degree from a prestigious university.

But a year is more than the sum of its parts, and en route to the future, the present must be lived through and even the past must be survived.

From one of Africa’s emerging literary voices comes a lyrical and piquant tale of family, migration, friendship, war, identity, and race following the intersecting lives of Séraphin and a host of eclectic characters from pre- and post-1994 Rwanda, colonial and post-independence Windhoek, Paris and Brussels in the 70s, Nairobi public schools, and the racially charged streets of Cape Town.

This reading group guide for The Eternal Audience of One includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Nobody ever makes it to the start of a story, not even the people in it. The most one can do is make some sort of start and then work toward some kind of ending.

One might as well start with Séraphin: playlist-maker, nerd-jock hybrid, self-appointed merchant of cool, Rwandan, stifled and living in Windhoek, Namibia. Soon he will leave the confines of his family life for the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town, in South Africa, where loyal friends, hormone-saturated parties, adventurous conquests, and race controversies await. More than that, his long-awaited final year in law school promises to deliver a crucial puzzle piece of the Great Plan immigrant: a degree from a prestigious university.

But a year is more than the sum of its parts, and en route to the future, the present must be lived through and even the past must be survived.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Séraphin is a young, intelligent, yet naïve protagonist on a quest to find home and belonging anywhere but Windhoek. Did you find yourself oscillating between rooting for and rooting against him? What do you think the author’s motivation was in creating a flawed, even frustrating, protagonist?

2. In this narrative, the past often serves as the backdrop to each family member’s current conflict. How did flashbacks to the Rwandan Civil War and genocide inform your understanding of their lives in Windhoek as well as their family dynamic?

3. The novel does not pinpoint the exact causes that led to the events in Rwanda in 1994. In many ways, like the introduction suggests, we come to stories and conflicts in the middle and try to piece things together as best as we can. Do you think this is the way conflicts happen? Do storytellers and readers have a duty to definitively list causes as a future preventative for such conflicts?

4. The structure of this novel interweaves the pasts, presents, and futures of multiple characters. How did this serve you as the reader? Did you find yourself making assumptions before fully understanding characters’ pasts? Did your perceptions of any of the characters evolve in unexpected ways? If so, which ones?

5. Although this book deals with serious topics like xenophobia, immigration, and war, it is also at its heart a modern and humorous coming-of-age story. How did you see humor functioning in the story? How did you feel about the narrator’s use of “the Séraphins”? Do you think people have their own versions of “the Séraphins” within them?

6. What impact did the unearthing of David’s past with Njeri and her family have on the way you interpreted his interactions with Séraphin?

7. Chapter 19 marks a point of convergence. It is here we learn here that the narrative’s opening paragraph was the very essay Séraphin wrote to get into the Remms Undergraduate Scholarship program. We also see a call back to Ukize inkuba arayiganira (To survive the thunder is to tell the tale), the Rwandan Proverb at the beginning of the book. Séraphin writes, “ ‘All the world’s a stage . . .’ upon which we perform for the eternal audience of one. Only the person who makes it to the end knows what everything was all about. He who survives the thunder gets to tell the tale.” What were your immediate reactions to this section? How did it inform your reading of the chapters that followed?

8. This book primarily takes place in Africa, but themes of immigration, police brutality, xenophobia, and racism hold a mirror to conflicts in the United States and around the world. How has the novel’s perspective on these issues impacted your own view of what is occurring in the place you call home?

9. In the book, “home” takes on many forms. To some it is the place they are born; to others it is where they find work, love, happiness, safety, or stability. Which of these features would have to disappear in order for a place to stop being “home”?

10. This story does not shy away from the harsh realities of how women—especially dark-skinned black women—are treated and stereotyped. We see this in the conversations Séraphin and his friends have. For example, on pg. 286 Godwin says, “White at the top, because bonus pussy points. Then Coloured girls, because light skin. Black at the bottom, because, well, life. Of the three, black guys don’t know how to give up Coloured girls. They’re best of both worlds: ass like a black girl, hair like a white girl.” How did passages like this one make you feel, and what do you think the book gains by including them?

11. We see several parallels in the lives of Séraphin and Therése, both characters embarking on a journey to find home. Despite their similarities, they are often at odds with one another. Why do you believe Therése challenges Séraphin’s desire to venture out of Windhoek when she had once desired a similar future for herself?

12. How did Guillome’s relationship with Adam frame your understanding of him as a character?

13. We follow Séraphin through countless relationships, situations, and friendships. Which ones did you find the most impactful and why? Of his relationships and situations, were you rooting for him to be with anyone, even at the very end?

14. What did you make of the ending? What did Silmary and Guillome’s introduction mean for Séraphin’s growth as a character?

15. At the end of the novel, what is your understanding of migration? Is it an external movement (from place to place) or internal (from one state of being to another)? Which version do you struggle with the most?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. This book contains many musical elements and influences. What are some songs you would include in a playlist for this book and your own life?

2. Migration and travel play huge roles in this narrative. Share a place you have visited that represents a time of transformation for you.

3. Through this story we are shown that coming-of-age moments are not only reserved for the youth; we come of age in every age, as exemplified by Therése, Guillome, and Mr. Caffrey. What was a coming-of-age moment you had at an unconventional age or time?

4. Who is your eternal audience of one? Is it a person, an idea, a higher power, or in some way all of the above?

5. Has this book reshaped your conception of the sociocultural landscapes of South Africa, Namibia, and Rwanda? If so, how?
Abantu Book Festival

Rémy Ngamije is a Rwandan-born Namibian writer and photographer. He is the cofounder and editor-in-chief of Doek! Literary Magazine, Namibia’s first literary magazine. His work has appeared in Litro Magazine, AFREADA, The Johannesburg Review of Books, Brainwavez, The Amistad, The Kalahari Review, American Chordata, Azure, Sultan’s Seal, Santa Ana River Review, Columbia Journal, New Contrast, Necessary Fiction, Silver Pinion, and Lolwe. He was shortlisted for the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing in 2020. He was also longlisted for the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize. In 2019, he was shortlisted for Best Original Fiction by Stack Magazines. More of his writing can be read on his website RemytheQuill.com.

“A novel this compelling shouldn’t be so entertaining. As comically inventive as it is superbly written, Ngamije’s The Eternal Audience of One has a rare narrative propulsion—I have not been so swept up on a novel in years. Out of Namibia, population 2.5 million, comes an international masterwork for the 21st Century.” 

Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Award

 

“The Eternal Audience of One had me completely in its palm. A delightful, witty and impeccably funny novel that I’ll read over and over again.”

Candice Carty-Williams, internationally bestselling author of Queenie

“A wickedly funny and deeply felt story about a young man’s intense desire to break free from the past, visually striking and beautifully told with youthful energy and hard-won wisdom”

Rabeah Ghaffari, screenwriter, and author of To Keep the Sun Alive

"Hilarious and heartbreaking, The Eternal Audience of One showed me another world and myself in equal measure on every page.  A delightful, masterful, instant classic of a debut."

Adam Smyer, author of Knucklehead and You Can Keep That to Yourself

“The Eternal Audience of One by Remy Ngamije is a brilliant debut that is as funny as it is wise and as beautiful as it is original. A stunning new work.”

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of Friday Black

 

 

“No writing convention is safe in Remy’s hands, not time, not form, not where a story begins or ends because to tell the story of an idiosyncratic yet strangely coherent and cosmopolitan Africa; where anything can happen, he has to reshape writing itself. And he does so with love, beauty and humor. Reader, please meet the future of African Literature!”

—Mukoma Wa Ngugi, author and Associate Professor of Literatures in English, Cornell University