Among my initial assignments some few years ago at Storymoja was to coordinate the production of The Wind Under His Wings. It is a fascinating story of Mollusk, a 14-year-old boy who finds himself on the streets of Nairobi after his initially promising academic cruise hits the high waves and loses power. The boy has nothing to cling onto to remain afloat, and any offer that promises salvation is welcome. It is therefore not surprising when Mollusk, a Christian, finds himself Muslim benefactors at a housing for the destitute who have been rescued from the streets.
The promise of good food, clothing, television and schooling is all the more welcome by all the boys at the facility. What the boys, and the management of the Mosque, do not know however is that the persons responsible for the daily teachings at the Mosque have other ideas. They are slowly indoctrinating the boys to carry out terrorist attacks. What Mollusk was hoping to be his silver lining had actually become his noose.
Eric Livumbazi Ngoda weaves a captivating story around a subject that is not so easy to handle for any author, not just in Kenya. Delinking the issues of radicalization and terrorism from religious fanaticism is impossible, and having a fictional story around the subject in a realistic setting is a mark of an intelligent narrator. The Kenyan market is still rudimentary in the context of producing and consuming such revolutionary texts. I call it revolutionary because this tiny novella (it’s a little over 100 pages) gives an opportunity to young readers to interrogate religious fundamentalism vis-à-vis misguided belief. It is simply a brave text.
It was no surprise therefore that the text was shortlisted for the 2017 Text Book Centre Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature. That also lays bare another fact: the story can be read independently without necessarily delving into its prequel, A Name for Himself (Runner up of CODE Burt Award 2013). We still get to see the background of Mollusk but in a new way when his mother dies. The writer swiftly takes us back to the village and enthuses with contrasts of countryside religious drifts and lifestyles and those of the city.
The read starts at a slow pace and picks up before becoming bouncy and ends in a mélange of solemnity and respite. Even though it is written for young adults, this is a text worth recommending to anyone who would like to explore contemporary Kenyan novels.
Title: The Wind Under His Wings
Author: Erick Livumbazi Ngoda
Price range: KES 380
Available at: www.masoko.com and various bookshops
Review by Hillary Namunyu
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