Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s latest Gikuyu novel, Kenda Muiyuru: Rugano Rwa Gikuyu na Mumbi (2019), is finally available in English under the title, The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gikuyu and Mumbi (2020).

In keeping with his ideology of telling African stories in African languages, Ngũgĩ wrote the novel in Gikuyu first and then translated it into English himself.

The Perfect Nine is Ngũgĩ’s rendering of the Gikuyu people’s origin story. In the original epic, Gikuyu and his wife Mumbi pray for nine suitors to claim the hands of their nine daughters in order to found the Gikuyu clans.

In Ngũgĩ’s reimagined epic, 99 suitors seek the hands of the nine warrior daughters who will ultimately decide which suitors are worthy of partnership. Ngugi adds a tenth daughter, Warigia, who is crippled but skilled at hunting just like her sisters. The suitors must team up with their intended wives to fight an ogre king who may possess a cure to Warigia’s disability.

By choosing to rewrite the story of The Perfect Nine in Homeric verse and then retranslating his original Gikuyu version into English, Ngugi gently challenges the dominance of one kind of myth over another…Every epic is an invitation to writers to take the core story and make it their own.

This sort of rethinking of African storytelling is timely and makes space for readers to engage with feminist thought and ideals as an authentic aspect of African writing and ideas.