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*A New York Times Notable Book* *A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice* *A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year* Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mech *A New York Times Notable Book* *A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice* *A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year* Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson—all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister, Jimmy and Ciru. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own. In this vivid and compelling debut memoir, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his mother's religious period, his failed attempt to study in South Africa as a computer programmer, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. A series of fascinating international reporting assignments follow. Finally he circles back to a Kenya in the throes of postelection violence and finds he is not the only one questioning the old certainties. Resolutely avoiding stereotype and cliché, Wainaina paints every scene in One Day I Will Write About This Place with a highly distinctive and hugely memorable brush.


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*A New York Times Notable Book* *A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice* *A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year* Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mech *A New York Times Notable Book* *A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice* *A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year* Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mechanics in Nairobi, the music of Michael Jackson—all punctuated by the infectious laughter of his brother and sister, Jimmy and Ciru. He could fall in with their patterns, but it would take him a while to carve out his own. In this vivid and compelling debut memoir, Wainaina takes us through his school days, his mother's religious period, his failed attempt to study in South Africa as a computer programmer, a moving family reunion in Uganda, and his travels around Kenya. The landscape in front of him always claims his main attention, but he also evokes the shifting political scene that unsettles his views on family, tribe, and nationhood. Throughout, reading is his refuge and his solace. And when, in 2002, a writing prize comes through, the door is opened for him to pursue the career that perhaps had been beckoning all along. A series of fascinating international reporting assignments follow. Finally he circles back to a Kenya in the throes of postelection violence and finds he is not the only one questioning the old certainties. Resolutely avoiding stereotype and cliché, Wainaina paints every scene in One Day I Will Write About This Place with a highly distinctive and hugely memorable brush.

30 review for One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    This is the memoir of a book addict, and Wainaina's savour for language glows from the first. His descriptions dance, they sing, they jump, syncopated, a lively, twisting flow like swift water, throwing rainbows of unexpected images into the air. In a pressing, urgent present tense at all times, his tale is vibrant and always fresh, even when he describes lethargy and depression. Language itself is his subject at times, as he shares how Kenyan people, with their many mother tongues, use Kiswahili This is the memoir of a book addict, and Wainaina's savour for language glows from the first. His descriptions dance, they sing, they jump, syncopated, a lively, twisting flow like swift water, throwing rainbows of unexpected images into the air. In a pressing, urgent present tense at all times, his tale is vibrant and always fresh, even when he describes lethargy and depression. Language itself is his subject at times, as he shares how Kenyan people, with their many mother tongues, use Kiswahili to show respect, invoke fellowship, leverage solidarity and subtly feel out a situation. I can never experience this, so it's wonderful to get a little taste of its richness through Wainaina's showing. Thinking about language in Kenya of course I think of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and he is here! Wainaina shows how the national figure and his ideas entered his awareness as a young, relatively privileged Kenyan. In Decolonising the Mind Ngugi wa Thiong'o mentioned that colonial & neo-colonial leaders create essentialist (I could perhaps say orientalising or ossifying) tribal identities and animosities which belie real conflicts of interest and obstacles to peace as well as the dynamic nature of all people, groups and relationships, and Wainaina makes the same point neatly through an anecdote. How tribal conflict came to the fore after Moi's rule through the legacy of colonialism is integral to his biography and emerges clearly. His mother, from Uganda, linked him to events there and in Rwanda. I felt the arbitrariness of borders and the rich mixings of tribal/language groups. Wainaina is well known for the essay he wrote sending up the way Africa is portrayed in Euro-American narratives and he returns to his disgust and mockery of the narrative of Africa as a poverty sticken disaster zone requiring urgent white saviour intervention (always blissfully free from any notion of how any kind of privation arose) at salient points in his text. He perhaps intended his memoir to contrast with that self-serving and disingenous story, but he doesn't give it the time of day; he doesn't answer it, just paints his own views of the places he visits. In his account, drab Nairobi contrasts vividly with stylish Lome, capital of Togo. Arid Kenya contrasts with lush Uganda, Maasailand is completely exotic and thrilling to him as a modern, urban young person. I was jolted by the frequent appearance of African American pop icons and other contemporary, global culture, showing that I have been drinking the colonial lemonade myself. On writing about Sudan on commission from an EU organisation which didn't want to publish the book, because it didn't say the right things, he had this to say: I start to understand why so little good literature is produced in Kenya. The talent is wasted writing donor-funded edutainment and awareness-raising brochures for seven thousand dollars a job. Do not complicate things, and you will be paid very well.Maybe that's why he founded The Kwani Trust I can't end without mentioning how likeable I found the author. There's nothing self-aggrandising about this memoir at all, and while it's painful (and to me, familiar as I had a similar experience in high school) to read about his periods of withdrawal as a student, he always owns his economic privilege, and it's heart-warming to read how his family's gentleness and sensitivity (in strong contrast to the stereotype of authoritarian African parents) pulled him through. I cared about him a lot and felt all the bumps and all the highs. Thanks so much Binyavanga for taking me along for the ride xxx

  2. 4 out of 5

    Abdulkadir Noormohamed

    A masterpiece. As a fellow Kenyan I can relate to every detail in Wainaina's story. At times I wondered how non-Kenyan readers would appreciate his humour or witty comments that seemed so personal, so warm and so....Kenyan. I smiled, laughed and even had my eyes well up through the story, because I grew up around the same time as Wainaina, and my childhood has more or less the same images (the trauma of the Moi years, will we ever recover?)The prose was exquisite, the imagery sublime. His story A masterpiece. As a fellow Kenyan I can relate to every detail in Wainaina's story. At times I wondered how non-Kenyan readers would appreciate his humour or witty comments that seemed so personal, so warm and so....Kenyan. I smiled, laughed and even had my eyes well up through the story, because I grew up around the same time as Wainaina, and my childhood has more or less the same images (the trauma of the Moi years, will we ever recover?)The prose was exquisite, the imagery sublime. His story spoke to me loud and oh so clear.It seems that finally, alienated, meandering anglo-Kenyans have found a place between these pages, comforting and honest. Thank you Binj for writing about it.

  3. 5 out of 5

    B. P. Rinehart

    "It often feels like an unbearable privilege to write. I make a living from simply taking all those wonderful and horrible patterns in my past and making them new and strong. I know people better. Sometimes I want to stop writing...But I can't stop." [Update: May 30, 2019]: Yesterday I found out that Binyavanga Wainaina had died on May 21, 2019, a little over two weeks after I read this book. I'm still processing this information and thinking of the last few pages of this memoir and of his medita "It often feels like an unbearable privilege to write. I make a living from simply taking all those wonderful and horrible patterns in my past and making them new and strong. I know people better. Sometimes I want to stop writing...But I can't stop." [Update: May 30, 2019]: Yesterday I found out that Binyavanga Wainaina had died on May 21, 2019, a little over two weeks after I read this book. I'm still processing this information and thinking of the last few pages of this memoir and of his meditations on mortality found within. My thoughts on this book have not changed; I really am thankful to have read this book. Hopefully I'll keep reading good biographies and be able to write a sentence or two in this almost confessional style. Godspeed, Mr. Wainaina. [Original review]: I read this as a special recommendation from someone after we had one of those "this was a life-changing conversation in retrospect." I had no idea what the book was about and it was not on my radar at all. I was told that my situation had some things in common with the story of the writer--also I really liked this cover a lot. So I'll say up-front to Chrissy--wherever she is--thank you for recommending this book. It has surely helped me see my path more clearly. Now to my review proper: This was not an easy read, but I have read it. Let me address the author's writing style now. It seems (to me) he was aiming for a cross between The Sound and the Fury and Three Lives. I think he failed in this respect and it made the book unrelentingly frustrating to read until about chapter 28 (of a 33-chapter book). The first half of this book is especially testing, but it compensates only by having a genuinely interesting story. The prose-style of this book surprised me because the author does not talk this way and his other notable piece of literature is not written like this. The story here of growing up and having to find out where you fit in the world is as old and timeless as the world. The peculiarity of growing-up in Kenya from post-colonialism thru the end of the decade of the 2000s was fascinating. The majority of African literature I have read so far has come from West Africa or the country of South Africa. I was curious to read literature from Kenya (or East Africa in general). Maybe my mind still had Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in the background which would be a tall-order to match. This book was possibly not my best introduction to Kenyan literature so I will not be silly enough to judge a whole nation's literature on one writer. Besides, one would do best to read How to Write about Africa for a proper introduction to this writer (a much more "user-friendly" work by him). In any case, this book has gave me confidence that if Wainaina can do it, I damn sure can!

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    I like books written with an eccentric style. This would be one. Wainaina does a few things I really liked: give great information in the voice of a child narrator, then switch to that of an adult's, showcase character flaw, give poetic expose. So different. So appealing. I liked also hearing of his struggles as a writer in Kenya, his mention of being friends with Chimamanda Adichie when she was trying to get published, his experience in applying for the Caine prize, etc. I assume that some of t I like books written with an eccentric style. This would be one. Wainaina does a few things I really liked: give great information in the voice of a child narrator, then switch to that of an adult's, showcase character flaw, give poetic expose. So different. So appealing. I liked also hearing of his struggles as a writer in Kenya, his mention of being friends with Chimamanda Adichie when she was trying to get published, his experience in applying for the Caine prize, etc. I assume that some of the reasons the book is so highly acclaimed include: its creativity (definitely does not read like any other memoir) its education about the social, economic and political climate in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, women's issues, and the narrator's journey. The child narrator describes the conflict going on in his mother's country Uganda: "Uganda, my mum's country, fell down and broke. Crutch! Field Marshal Amin Dada, the president of Uganda, ate his minister for supper. He kept the minister's head in the fridge. His son wears a uniform just like his. They stand together on television news, in front of a parade." About the death of the President of Kenya: "Every day, all day, we see Kenyatta lying flat and dead on television, and people come to see his body. His body is gray and covered with death-snot." The adult narrator realizes he is a writer at heart: "If words in English, arranged on the page have power to control my body in the word, this sound and language can close its folds, like a fan, and I will slide into its world, where things are arranged differently, where people like Jonas, the Pokot guard live, and in that place anything can happen to you."

  5. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    As a small boy, the author is watching an Independence Day celebration in a big football stadium. Music plays, and the boy wavers between his 'home home, home squared... your clan...nation of your origin' and the 'home away from home' the new Kenya. Trumpet caries the first part of the song, sharp and spread outward. Standing trumpets bracket the song with controlled rhythm beats, the loudest part of the song. Mprrahh. No drums. No traditional drums. This is national music, taken from folk songs, As a small boy, the author is watching an Independence Day celebration in a big football stadium. Music plays, and the boy wavers between his 'home home, home squared... your clan...nation of your origin' and the 'home away from home' the new Kenya. Trumpet caries the first part of the song, sharp and spread outward. Standing trumpets bracket the song with controlled rhythm beats, the loudest part of the song. Mprrahh. No drums. No traditional drums. This is national music, taken from folk songs, and brought into rows and columns, by Imperial British Biscuit podiums, marching crews of barefoot porters, dutiful missionary boys soldiers in Burma, colonial village headmen with military whistles, guitar and military trumpet and other sounds from labor lines and colonial ghettos. English universities and their local satellites, and the promises of the grandson and granddaughters of the fist ones to be so violently formatted. The memoir is a mixture of occasionally challenging prose like that of Kojo Laing in Search Sweet Country, traditional autobiography, and reportage. The early years of his childhood contain the most experimental writing, which portray him as a confused, almost mentally challenged boy unable to comprehend what is going on around him. Eventually a more orderly story emerges, although it still bounces around in time somewhat. He grows up in the city of Nakuru, in a middle class family. Woven throughout are history and emotions connected to the history of Kenya and Africa in general, often expressed through memories of the music of the time. The most powerful presence in the book is not a person, but the tribal structure of East African society that results in (offstage) atrocities in Ruanda and Kenya. Wainaina is Gikuyu, the tribe of Kenyatta and the later leader Kibaki . In between comes President Moi, who is from another tribe, speaks Tugen, and gives all the places in good schools to non-Gikuyu, revenge for years of perceived discrimination. So Wainaina, since he leaves middle school near the very top of the class in this Moi period, has to settle for a local school rather than the eminent national high school he expected. This is the personal version of the tribal tensions he explores within Kenya, regionally as he visits the Ugandan home of his mother, and when he writes about the ongoing Hutu-Tutsi conflict. He revisits the endless tension between tribe and nation as he goes through air terminals. He reflects on it as he works as a journalist in West Africa, where it seems he didn't not encounter as open a problem, although he specifies languages that his contacts speak and borders that they cross. In general he seems to feel that Kenya is behind many other African countries in moving on, getting going. The Gikuyu are still in power in Kenya (as of his writing), and are resented. He also describes an alternative, a matatu driver who alters his body language and language as he picks up and drops off passengers to minimize conflict and generate good will. I found the discussion of language and music most interesting. In particular, Wainaina repeatedly comes to grip with the cultural strength of Kiswahili, the second lingua franca of Kenya (with English). He says it is an ancient and formal language. You must observe the etiquette and politeness due to others when you speak it. A tribal language is spoken to members of your tribe, whether known or unknown, when you encounter them to indicate belonging to a subgroup, a sign that the policeman can let this infraction go unnoticed or the price will come down. But Kiswahili levels the ground, or rather raises it, for all. The other intercultural language is music. In his middle school and high school days, we heard mostly about Western music invading Africa. But when Wainaina goes to South Africa for university, we are introduced to (at least I was; others have probably heard of her) Brenda Fassie. In her big hits, repeated personal crashes, and repeated renewals, she echos Wainaina's struggles to survive far from family. He sinks into alcohol and drops out of school, and yet eventually struggles toward completion and a career as a writer. He wins the Caine prize, and we get a long interlude on his travels to write about Nigeria and aspiring soccer players in Ghana and Togo. Late in the book he examines the Kenyan music known as benga. It emerged in the late 1940s and was popular through the 1970s. It as based on traditional songs, but incorporated the acoustic guitar music that Kenyan soldiers brought back from WWII service in Burma. Wainana writes that for most of his life he disliked it. But in one of those sensual experiences that erase prior taste or distaste, he has an epiphany and embraces it as a language that blends or surpasses the tribal languages; for him it becomes a common Kenyan tongue. Sounds: Brenda Fassie: .Vulindlela Benga: old style: Victoria Jazz Band new style, at the Library of Congress performance series: Winyo

  6. 5 out of 5

    Susanna

    It took me a while to get into this book. For the first seventy-five pages, I just could not make myself care about Wainaina's life. Fortunately, my interest in the book improved the further I read. Wainaina's young adult years provide the forefront for most of his memoir, with the movements and events in Africa during the 1970s and '80s being a fascinating backdrop. The author provides readers with a younger voice's view of the post-colonial continent and all of its competing elements: pop cult It took me a while to get into this book. For the first seventy-five pages, I just could not make myself care about Wainaina's life. Fortunately, my interest in the book improved the further I read. Wainaina's young adult years provide the forefront for most of his memoir, with the movements and events in Africa during the 1970s and '80s being a fascinating backdrop. The author provides readers with a younger voice's view of the post-colonial continent and all of its competing elements: pop culture vs. Pentecostal religion, socio-political problems, tribalism, Afrocentrism and pan-Africanism, the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Western education, refugees, immigration, and more. Wainaina primarily focuses on his period of being out-of-touch with his goals, country, and, at times, family, then moves on to his eventual journey to being a writer. He ends, however, by writing just as much about recent political situations in Kenya as about himself. Wainaina writes in what I would consider a literary style, so the writing can be lyrical and magnificent at times. I could tell that the words the author used were considered very carefully as he was writing; Wainaina's hard work shows. Every once in a while, though, I found his anecdotes to be somewhat confusing, their meanings ambiguous. I felt like more concrete memoir-writing might have been nice in these places, but all in all, this book turned out to be a wonderful read. I was provided with a copy of this book through GoodReads' First Look program in return for an honest review.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Maxwell

    The beginning of the book follows a young Wainaina as he realizes his quirks, his uniqueness, his awareness that he is somehow different from his older brother, Jimmy, and younger sister, Ciru. As he moves through life as an observant young man, noticing the details often overlooked in everyday life, reminiscent of Joyce's Stephen Dedalus in 'A Portrait...' Wainaina struggles to reconcile his identity with nationhood. We learn a lot about Kenyan history, the tensions between the Gikuyu people, o The beginning of the book follows a young Wainaina as he realizes his quirks, his uniqueness, his awareness that he is somehow different from his older brother, Jimmy, and younger sister, Ciru. As he moves through life as an observant young man, noticing the details often overlooked in everyday life, reminiscent of Joyce's Stephen Dedalus in 'A Portrait...' Wainaina struggles to reconcile his identity with nationhood. We learn a lot about Kenyan history, the tensions between the Gikuyu people, of whom Wainaina is a part of, and the other provincial people in Kenya, through the story. As he grows up, receives a varied education, experiences trauma and depression, and finally works through these issues, Wainaina comes to reflect on family history, his calling as a writer, and how he can weave all he has learned into a narrative about his nation. As a whole I found this book to be a struggle. The writing style for the first half or so of the book is sporadic, disjointed, and hard to follow. I think this is used to show Wainaina's childlike imagination, his attentiveness to his surroundings, and how is mind moves all over the place. But I think it is a bit too extreme, and this leads to an unpleasant reading experience. When he is older there is more of a common thread to follow in the narrative, so you can see a bit more continuity throughout the chapters. I much preferred the second half of the book. Overall there are shining moments; Wainaina has passages that take you directly into his mind and universalize an experience for all readers. He has a wonderful eye and imagination. His motifs are interesting. His diction is at times surprising and stunning. If you are determined to read this, then go for it. If not, I do not necessarily recommend.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. After reading some of the reviews that this book got, I tore into it and it took up all my free time. I loved the pace of the writing. It felt a lot like an easy bike ride, up and down a bunch of hills, with the pace reaching crescendoes and giving way to lulls and then even higher crescendoes. Brilliant. A glorious tale of coming of age in a world that was still coming to terms with itself, first in Daniel Arap Moi's Kenya where old, structured, colonial ways of being and thinking gave way to a After reading some of the reviews that this book got, I tore into it and it took up all my free time. I loved the pace of the writing. It felt a lot like an easy bike ride, up and down a bunch of hills, with the pace reaching crescendoes and giving way to lulls and then even higher crescendoes. Brilliant. A glorious tale of coming of age in a world that was still coming to terms with itself, first in Daniel Arap Moi's Kenya where old, structured, colonial ways of being and thinking gave way to a world where one's connections mattered more than what they knew. of particular interest is the 'kimay' language, used to refer to languages that he didn't understand, to culture such as that of Benga music and Lingala, people from outside his cultural context. The story exemplifies the crisis facing middle class Kenya, where tribe matters first, before other things are considered. He had his chances at success in the traditional way, study and go to good schools, get a degree, then make something of yourself, but he became a writer, winning prizes and getting commissioned to write pieces here and there. But still, the man is forced to face his 'Kikuyuness', a culture which he is unfamiliar with, and given his Ugandan name, he is generally unfamiliar with. The ending was rather formulaic though. He gets diabetes, like his mother did, and the Post-Election violence and Kenya starts to shake in the same way Uganda at the beginning of the book, under Idi Amin, has suffered. A brilliant, fast-paced read, with beautiful imagery to boot.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jendella

    Beautifully lyrical memoir and easily one of my favourites. As I began to read I felt instantly jealous at Binyavanga's mastery of language to create such a tender and at times surreal read. I loved the imagery, I felt emotionally intertwined with his family. His childhood vagueness and interior-living has paid off to create a book that resonated deeply with me. The author's observations of the different African countries he visits and also the different African cultures he encounters are some of Beautifully lyrical memoir and easily one of my favourites. As I began to read I felt instantly jealous at Binyavanga's mastery of language to create such a tender and at times surreal read. I loved the imagery, I felt emotionally intertwined with his family. His childhood vagueness and interior-living has paid off to create a book that resonated deeply with me. The author's observations of the different African countries he visits and also the different African cultures he encounters are some of the highlights of the book for me personally. His appreciation for people, places and stories is what makes this book insightful, tender, humorous and very real. "Africa from the African point of view." His style of writing is not for everyone, that can be guaranteed but I've seen other reviews complain that it hasn't got enough about Kenya in it. This isn't a book about Kenya, it is a book about someone's life, if you are complaining that you "didn't learn enough about Kenya" then perhaps purchase a guidebook. But saying that you do learn a lot about Kenya, not the two-dimensional postcard Kenya I think some people are wanting, but the complex, multi-layered, tense, fluid, beautiful, tragic that in some part shaped Binyavanga Wainaina's childhood and adolescence.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kate Savage

    A miracle. Chapter 18 is the best of anything ever created. How does Wainaina remain completely and utterly within both his tender internal life and the buzzing-about world? Delicious anti-racist rejection of most writing 'about Africa.' (For something more direct, see Wainaina's famous rant: http://www.granta.com/Archive/92/How-...) Also, this book is one of the best memoirs on the writing life: "I am afraid. If I write, and fail at it, I cannot see what else I can do. Maybe I will write and peop A miracle. Chapter 18 is the best of anything ever created. How does Wainaina remain completely and utterly within both his tender internal life and the buzzing-about world? Delicious anti-racist rejection of most writing 'about Africa.' (For something more direct, see Wainaina's famous rant: http://www.granta.com/Archive/92/How-...) Also, this book is one of the best memoirs on the writing life: "I am afraid. If I write, and fail at it, I cannot see what else I can do. Maybe I will write and people will roll their eyes, because I will talk about thirst, and thirst is something people know already, and what I see is only bad shapes that mean nothing."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia K

    I loved it. I wish I read it when he was alive, but I’m still glad that I read it when I did. It came to me at the perfect time. It’s been so long since I read a book about Kenya, by a Kenyan, I’m still reading Dust by Yvonne and that’s a whole other story😜, so this was much needed and appreciated. The first part of the book was most enjoyable. I loved all his stories about Nakuru, his home, his family, his crushes, school. Maybe I am biased because he was queer, or maybe because he wrote about I loved it. I wish I read it when he was alive, but I’m still glad that I read it when I did. It came to me at the perfect time. It’s been so long since I read a book about Kenya, by a Kenyan, I’m still reading Dust by Yvonne and that’s a whole other story😜, so this was much needed and appreciated. The first part of the book was most enjoyable. I loved all his stories about Nakuru, his home, his family, his crushes, school. Maybe I am biased because he was queer, or maybe because he wrote about Nakuru, my favourite place in the world, or maybe because I saw myself in this book, but this is one of my favourite books ever! Rest in Peace Binya!❤️

  12. 4 out of 5

    Darryl Suite

    Loved this. This book has it all. Wainaina knows how to paint an image and knows how to make that image linger. This is a love letter to Africa: the good and the bad (historically and personally). Loved the references to pop culture, music, political movements, and fashion. It helped add to the vibrancy of the narrative. I learned some things and investigated others. I was truly invested in his life: his family, his schooling, his struggles, his passions. There's something about Wainaina's writi Loved this. This book has it all. Wainaina knows how to paint an image and knows how to make that image linger. This is a love letter to Africa: the good and the bad (historically and personally). Loved the references to pop culture, music, political movements, and fashion. It helped add to the vibrancy of the narrative. I learned some things and investigated others. I was truly invested in his life: his family, his schooling, his struggles, his passions. There's something about Wainaina's writing style that felt soothing and comforting. So glad I read this one. 

  13. 5 out of 5

    Darkowaa

    http://africanbookaddict.wordpress.co... Amazing memoir. I loved every bit of it!! I watched a lot of interviews with Binyavanga, so when I was reading the book, I read it in his voice and it made my reading experience even more enjoyable, haaha. (We read his "How To Write About Africa" essay when I was in college and I enjoyed his satire..). I loved how he took us through his life as a child, his secondary school years, university life to present day. I loved his relationship with his sister Cir http://africanbookaddict.wordpress.co... Amazing memoir. I loved every bit of it!! I watched a lot of interviews with Binyavanga, so when I was reading the book, I read it in his voice and it made my reading experience even more enjoyable, haaha. (We read his "How To Write About Africa" essay when I was in college and I enjoyed his satire..). I loved how he took us through his life as a child, his secondary school years, university life to present day. I loved his relationship with his sister Ciru. It was touching to me...they almost seemed like twins. I loved the grace of his Mom. I appreciated the struggles he faced in finding himself in university in SA. I loved the way he played with sounds and words throughout the book - 'kimay'! I loved the references to a lot of pop culture- from Lauryn Hill's afro, to OutKast's wardrobe, Lionel Richie, Brenda Fassie. Before I read the book, I read reviews on how readers found it a bit choppy and not an easy read to get through, but I didn't find it difficult or choppy at all. In the beginning, it may have seemed that way because we were encountering the young, immature, happy-go-lucky, very jovial Binyavanga. The writing style seemed appropriate, as we read through the mind of a young, privileged boy who just enjoyed reading books, imagining random patterns in the sky, day-dreamed and had a somewhat scatter-brain. Which youngster isn't like this anyways? I gained more interest in Biyavanga after he came out to the world earlier this year on being homosexual. I found it quite brave and admirable- Live your truth! I learned a lot about Kenya and the ethnic group issues they face, especially during elections etc. It was familiar to me, as Ghana and other African nations face these issues as well. I loved that I got to learn about Kenya from a middle-class, Kenyan male stand point as well- instead of the village life stories that a lot of African novels are based on -_-. It is an overall amazing, hilarious book. I would totally be-friend Biyavanga. He's very cool :) [I look forward to reading the Africa39 book in October of this year, a project started by Binyavanga Wainaina]

  14. 5 out of 5

    Mbogo J

    Some years back when Michael Jackson died, I came across lots of stories on how his songs were topping charts all over the world. To me [then] this seemed hypocritical, you had all these years to listen to Thriller, why did you wait until he died to listen to it? A few years later when Prince died, I was no longer a teenager and I understood fully why everyone was blasting Purple rain and the ultimate touching scene when major landmarks were lit with a purple hue as a farewell ode to Prince. Fast Some years back when Michael Jackson died, I came across lots of stories on how his songs were topping charts all over the world. To me [then] this seemed hypocritical, you had all these years to listen to Thriller, why did you wait until he died to listen to it? A few years later when Prince died, I was no longer a teenager and I understood fully why everyone was blasting Purple rain and the ultimate touching scene when major landmarks were lit with a purple hue as a farewell ode to Prince. Fast forward a month back, when I came across the sad news that our native son Binyavanga Wainaina had passed away. After the initial shock and sadness was the resolve that he must never be forgotten, that his works should be read by all, that his candid portrayal of Kenya and Africa must not gather dust but be shouted from the hill tops. I had intended to read this memoir but I was in no hurry, after all there is plenty of time. His death served as a reminder that our time here on the pale blue dot is limited and that I should rush at full clip to get a copy of his book and soak up on all he had to say. This book was as Binyavanga as it could possibly be. There was no hand-holding, he wrote as he alone deemed fit. It was frustrating at times especially the first chapters. They demanded a lot from the reader's imagination to parse out a coherent story. I had the benefit of being Kenyan and could know who Lena Moi was or the program of Madaraka day celebrations but even I at some point did not know what he was talking about. The writing was scatterbrained and he seemed to be in a rush to get to the next scene. I didn't understand why he wrote this way but then from chapter 18 onwards, the "real" Binyavanga turned up. The one I know from How to Write About Africa. His piercing style joined the party and from then the book became a cozy companion. I have always respected Binyavanga. He didn't pander to western audiences. He had the guts to call out the "conservationists" racket which somehow has to be run by a white person who teaches the hapless Africans how to conserve the environment. A few months back when Botswana legalized game hunting again and the western media was making a lot of noise I thought of Binyavanga. As the Botswana minister said, taking into account the human-wildlife conflict cases, it was clear that their numbers had exceeded the environment carrying capacity and something needed to be done. He also chided the west to stop thinking of Africa as the global zoo where the western leisurely classes come for a safari. We also want to partake in the 21st century. The tale of the mother who loses all her crops to marauding elephants has also to be told. How will she feed her kids?...... Farewell our native son. You were taken away before your time. Somehow the good get plucked early while evil men get to live to 100 sowing discord and death wherever they go. This thing called life is truly absurd. You will be remembered for telling the real story of this place. Eternal rest be granted to you, and now your watch has ended.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Beverly

    My thoughts: • At first it took me a while to get into the flow of the book but for me this book was a series of vignettes/thoughts – some very brief and some a little longer. There were times when I was fully engaged and others that I was not quite sure what was going on. • For the book is divided into the three stages of the author’s life – coming-of-age (childhood into adolescence as become more aware of the influences outside of family) – college years/young adult – adulthood and each part had My thoughts: • At first it took me a while to get into the flow of the book but for me this book was a series of vignettes/thoughts – some very brief and some a little longer. There were times when I was fully engaged and others that I was not quite sure what was going on. • For the book is divided into the three stages of the author’s life – coming-of-age (childhood into adolescence as become more aware of the influences outside of family) – college years/young adult – adulthood and each part had a different flavor but was aware that all were written by an adult reflecting backwards • We are all a product of our times that is influenced by our personal ambitions tempered by the past and family, cultural and political expectations/barriers and the author did a good job of showing how each of these affected him. • While some understanding of this time period/history/place will enhance the reading this book can be read on both the macro and micro level. On the macro level the life path by Wainaina can be recognized by many as it is universal one that many readers can understand that mimics their life in broad strokes, but what the reader will get on the macro level is a broad stroke of a middle class life in Kenya, Uganda, & South Africa at the time. On the micro level, Wainaina mentions issues, names, places that are better understood if you have some knowledge on what he is commenting on – or if interested can research further. • This book and author falls into the category of Afropolitan – internationally mobile, educated, with a different expectation of Africa than the parent’s and prior generations. As I have enjoyed the thoughts and portrayals by other authors labeled as Afropolitan – I also enjoyed this book. This book will help dispel some stereotypes that come to mind when readers think of Africa. • I enjoyed how the author used historical events, family events, cultural tidbits throughout the story and it helped to understand his inner turmoil as he grew up and moved forward as an adult. • As the author is a student of words – the language/words are both structured and free-flowing yet the reader is aware that the author took much thought on the words/sentences as presented on the page. • I would not say that I am a big fan of memoirs but this memoir worked for me – I came away understanding a little more about a place and time that is often portrayed differently in history – the author is honest in what happened and does not paint a Pollyanna portrait but one that is individual to him.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joanna

    First, a complaint about the recording of the audiobook version. The narrator does a fine job of rendering the accents of different people. But throughout the recording, the narrator spoke so quietly that even with the volume cranked way up on my player, I often felt like I could barely hear him. Combine his low speech level with his African-accented reading and I found it really hard to listen to this. I wish I'd read the book instead. That said, I really enjoyed the book. The writing felt alive First, a complaint about the recording of the audiobook version. The narrator does a fine job of rendering the accents of different people. But throughout the recording, the narrator spoke so quietly that even with the volume cranked way up on my player, I often felt like I could barely hear him. Combine his low speech level with his African-accented reading and I found it really hard to listen to this. I wish I'd read the book instead. That said, I really enjoyed the book. The writing felt alive and fresh. There were a few chapters that seemed out of place - maybe they were pieces of other writing the author had done that he basically just included. For example, the book went on a tangent about the World Cup in Togo and the style of the writing abruptly shifted. Still, overall I really liked the pacing and the switching from one memory to another. I'm having a hard time describing exactly what it was about the book that made it so compelling, but I definitely felt an almost science-fiction like transportation into someone else's mind. The style felt both intimate and distant within a single paragraph. The images are vivid and fascinating.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Amari

    To savor. Early on, like Joyce that one could understand. More coherent later, mirroring (as I see it) Binyavanga's integration into the World and his growing ability to exist within it and merge its "patterns" a bit with his dreaminess. Along with The Grapes of Wrath and Bhabra's Gestures, one of my very obvious top 3 of 2011. Humane, individual, important, Real. Subtle, good-naturedly ironic, jarring, hot-African-summer sweaty.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Doreen

    Outstanding evocation of living in (primarily) East Africa. This was so much better than 'Looking for Transwonderland'. Moving, gripping, even though you know, because it is an autobiography, how it will turn out. A real insider's view. I'm sure I missed a lot and it took me a few pages to get into it but I heartily recommend it.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jerome Kuseh

    Brilliant! Binyavanga is one of those special writers who can use many words yet it never feels excessive or boring. His storytelling is unconventional, humorous without feeling forced. ODIWWATP is a memoir that isn't about giving everything in detail or defending actions. Certainly worth reading.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

    It took me awhile to start enjoying Wainaina's memoir. For one thing, I thought that it was a novel and I kept waiting for the plot to start. This was my error, since "a memoir" is noted in the right corner of the book’s cover. Wainaina grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. Both his parents have college educations. After independence, the country invested heavily in education and built schools all over the country, making higher education accessible to masses of young people who were previously shut out of It took me awhile to start enjoying Wainaina's memoir. For one thing, I thought that it was a novel and I kept waiting for the plot to start. This was my error, since "a memoir" is noted in the right corner of the book’s cover. Wainaina grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. Both his parents have college educations. After independence, the country invested heavily in education and built schools all over the country, making higher education accessible to masses of young people who were previously shut out of it. Wainaina starts out writing in a style that is impressionistic, with many sensory details, and sentences that are not sentences but words strung together in the way that a child might speak. This both slowed me down and drew me in. His writing throughout is multilingual, including bits and pieces of Swahili (I can only assume, since he states he speaks no other African language) scattered among the English. This is a feast of history, biography, culture, and politics. Based on my stereotypes of African literature, I expected something terrible to happen to Wainaina sooner or later. Though terrible things happen in the nearby countries Uganda and Rwanda (his mother’s family lives on that border), and there is political violence in Kenya, our narrator escapes physical harm. Wainaina has a wonderful ability to get along with others and one of my favorite sections involves him partying with strangers in a rural pub when he briefly worked as an agricultural agent. Wainaina’s memoir identifies tribalism as the country’s curse: it inflames passions, leads to killings, underlies political corruption, and impacts each individual. He manages to stay aloof from identification politics due to his multinational family background. Though Kikuyu, he does not speak that language, and his name, which comes from his mother’s father, does not readily identify his tribal origins. This disadvantages him, something he is keenly aware of as a child when he doesn’t get into a top school despite his superior academic record. As he gets older, though, he refuses to play along when others demand to know his affinity. By then, the writer in him—the one who observes all—has established itself. I had no idea that I would enjoy this book when I started it, but it is beautifully written, and Wainaina’s journey to becoming a writer is really interesting, mostly because there are so many halts, and troughs, and false starts to it. This is a good book for anyone to read, but especially for young people who are struggling to find their place in the world. Wainaina describes so well how difficult that process can be and yet how the low periods somehow also show the path to take.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I wish I could give this book 3 1/2 stars. I really liked most of it, but the childhood portions with Wainaina going on about the sun splintering into thousands of suns that breathe and dim and cool... It just seemed like he was trying too hard. The success of this book, for me, was the author's unique take on what it is to be a Kenyan, an African, a tourist in his own country many times. How to navigate in a country with so many languages and traditions. How the tribalism creeps into politics a I wish I could give this book 3 1/2 stars. I really liked most of it, but the childhood portions with Wainaina going on about the sun splintering into thousands of suns that breathe and dim and cool... It just seemed like he was trying too hard. The success of this book, for me, was the author's unique take on what it is to be a Kenyan, an African, a tourist in his own country many times. How to navigate in a country with so many languages and traditions. How the tribalism creeps into politics and day-to-day life. He talks about how in South Africa, where he has lived many years, "to be a new thing is normal" but in Kenya the ultimate hubris is someone who has tried to be something new and failed. "If there is a courtesy every Kenyan practices, it is that we don't question each other's contradictions... We know we sit on top of a rotting edifice; we are terrified of questioning anything deeply." He says, "There is nothing wrong with being what you are not in Kenya; just be it successfully." The first chapter that I really loved was 12, where Wainaina meets a woman in a bar who is foreign, exotic, exciting... Until the illusion starts to shatter and he realizes that she is just a Kenyan, like him. Wainaina's explanation of how some cultural contradictions or social issues can't be discussed successfully in English, or Kiswahili, or Sheng is so alien to me. I loved the passage where he describes how someone's demeanor completely changes when he switches between speaking Gikuyu and Kalenjin. Wainaina has a unique perspective on Africa and Africans and I would be very interested in reading more from him in that line. Full disclosure: I won my uncorrected proof as a Goodreads giveaway.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dylan Armes

    The only thing that is important for you take out of this review is that you should read this book if: 1) You like autobiographies 2) You are interested in Kenya OR 3) You like books that are so well-written and so emotionally stirring that you will likely find yourself on the brink of tears. If for some reason you haven't already ordered this book (I can only assume that you exclusively read Laurel K. Hamilton and her ilk, you sad human, you) I will expound on my review: This book, by Binyavanga Wai The only thing that is important for you take out of this review is that you should read this book if: 1) You like autobiographies 2) You are interested in Kenya OR 3) You like books that are so well-written and so emotionally stirring that you will likely find yourself on the brink of tears. If for some reason you haven't already ordered this book (I can only assume that you exclusively read Laurel K. Hamilton and her ilk, you sad human, you) I will expound on my review: This book, by Binyavanga Wainaina, is wholly different than what I expected. My brother-in-law is from Kenya, and I was hoping to read a book about growing up in that country that would give me some insight into his upbringing. To be completely honest with you and with myself, what I wanted was to read about lions and Ladysmith Black Mambazo music. What I got instead was not only a view on politics and education in Kenya, but also exposure to some of the most interesting and flowing prose I have ever seen, certainly in a non-fiction book. This isn't a ghost-written book or a thrown together work cashing in on the re-release of The Lion King in 3D. This is a tale of a professional writer growing up in Kenya and becoming a professional writer. I wholeheartedly recommend that you read this book. It is not funny like the books I normally read and recommend, nor is it an easy read. It will require effort on your part, and it will likely be emotionally draining. If that is something that appeals to you, please pick this book up.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Millicent

    I highly recommend Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2011 memoir, especially if you are Kenyan. It’s refreshing to read literature from the neurotic mind of a thoroughly postmodern Kenyan. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s generation couldn’t afford to focus on the individual when Africa was at an important crossroad that demanded its intellectuals accept the burden to be griots of the dissapearing past, and architects for a future emancipated and fully realized Africa. We are not as confident as Thiong’o or Chinua Ache I highly recommend Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2011 memoir, especially if you are Kenyan. It’s refreshing to read literature from the neurotic mind of a thoroughly postmodern Kenyan. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s generation couldn’t afford to focus on the individual when Africa was at an important crossroad that demanded its intellectuals accept the burden to be griots of the dissapearing past, and architects for a future emancipated and fully realized Africa. We are not as confident as Thiong’o or Chinua Achebe etc because we lived the reality of post-independent Africa that was far from the romantic visions the panafricanists had of what a free Africa would be like. Each generation needs to deconstruct and reconstruct it’s purpose. This is one commendable attempt to do that. Post-elections violence 2007, it’s vital we redefine what it means to be a Kenyan, nationally and culturally. Without an understanding of how we fit together, we are likely to loose the plot again. Check out my blog: http://fuckyeahkenyans.tumblr.com/

  24. 5 out of 5

    windy

    Impressionistic account of the author growing up in a middle class Kenyan family, with a lot of self-deprecating humor. Towards the end, things get more serious as the author struggles with depression as a student, and ethnic tensions surface in Kenya. I liked the observations of how multilingual people construct different 'selves' for different languages (a recurring theme throughout the book): I switch to Swahili, and she pours herself into another person, talkative, aggressive. A person who Impressionistic account of the author growing up in a middle class Kenyan family, with a lot of self-deprecating humor. Towards the end, things get more serious as the author struggles with depression as a student, and ethnic tensions surface in Kenya. I liked the observations of how multilingual people construct different 'selves' for different languages (a recurring theme throughout the book): I switch to Swahili, and she pours herself into another person, talkative, aggressive. A person who must have a Tupac T-shirt stashed away somewhere. or: Urban Kenya is a split personality: authority, trajectory, international citizen in English; national brother in Kiswahili; and content villager or nostalgic urbanite in our mother tongues.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Siria

    Really wonderful, absorbing memoir about growing up in Kenya in the 70s and 80s, being part of the first generation to be born after independence from British rule. Wainaina's prose is the real joy here, riffing on language, meandering but never rambling, often suggestive rather than direct, and only rarely getting away from itself. (This seems to happen more at the beginning of the book than later on.) I did want this to cohere a little more—it's not quite a memoir proper, but more than a serie Really wonderful, absorbing memoir about growing up in Kenya in the 70s and 80s, being part of the first generation to be born after independence from British rule. Wainaina's prose is the real joy here, riffing on language, meandering but never rambling, often suggestive rather than direct, and only rarely getting away from itself. (This seems to happen more at the beginning of the book than later on.) I did want this to cohere a little more—it's not quite a memoir proper, but more than a series of vignettes—but was impressed enough that I will look out for more of Wainaina's work in the future.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian Kivuti

    This is the first book I've ever read depicting the middle-class experience in 1960's-1990's Kenya. Being Kenyan myself, born in 1988, there's something about that that lifts the history of my country before my birth into something more than abstract history; finally creating the first portrayal of lives that are in any way like my own, growing up as an African, gay, middle-class, arty man in Kenya. So, not in 'any way like my own', rather, very much like my own life. I think what I experienced, This is the first book I've ever read depicting the middle-class experience in 1960's-1990's Kenya. Being Kenyan myself, born in 1988, there's something about that that lifts the history of my country before my birth into something more than abstract history; finally creating the first portrayal of lives that are in any way like my own, growing up as an African, gay, middle-class, arty man in Kenya. So, not in 'any way like my own', rather, very much like my own life. I think what I experienced, was the joy of feeling represented in Kenyan literature, and this literature enriching my own experience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Divya Pal Singh

    This is a vivid and lyrical creative effort- yet convoluted - like a van Gogh painting. Here is an example of the author’s beautifully crafted prose – this being about filial love, “My father is like warm bread: he smells good and radiates good biology, and my enzymes growl and glow around him.” The author captures accurately the fake, put on drawling accent of RJs, “… foreign influenzes are invecting us, secret foreign influenzes are infringing us, invincing us, perfecting our gildren, preaking o This is a vivid and lyrical creative effort- yet convoluted - like a van Gogh painting. Here is an example of the author’s beautifully crafted prose – this being about filial love, “My father is like warm bread: he smells good and radiates good biology, and my enzymes growl and glow around him.” The author captures accurately the fake, put on drawling accent of RJs, “… foreign influenzes are invecting us, secret foreign influenzes are infringing us, invincing us, perfecting our gildren, preaking our gultural moralities, our ancient filosofies, the dissidents are pushing and bulling, pringing segret Kurly Marxes, and Michael Jagsons, making us backledding robots, and our land is becoming moonar handscapes.” The narrative tends to meander cryptically about towards the end but otherwise makes gripping reading.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zuzana Kubáň

    I have generally enjoyed reading this book, although it was not in any sense “ground breaking”. Personally, the main source of enjoyment was simply his description of historical events in Kenya and South Africa between the 1980s and early 2000s from his perspective. The book might be of interest to anyone who wants to get a personal perspective of someone living in and visiting multiple post-colonial states in Africa or someone who just wants to hear a few random narrated stories that are based I have generally enjoyed reading this book, although it was not in any sense “ground breaking”. Personally, the main source of enjoyment was simply his description of historical events in Kenya and South Africa between the 1980s and early 2000s from his perspective. The book might be of interest to anyone who wants to get a personal perspective of someone living in and visiting multiple post-colonial states in Africa or someone who just wants to hear a few random narrated stories that are based on truth.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Easton Smith

    Childhood is a diffused, popping, punchy sort of confusion that may best be written about in jumbled snippets. If I can't convince you of that, let Binyavanga Wainaina convince you: "Jimmy rolls his eyes and says, 'You’ve lost your marbles.' 'I’m thirsty,' says Cira. 'Me too,' says Jim, and they run, and I want to stand and run with them. My face hurts. Juma, our dog, is licking my face. I lean into his stomach; my nose pushed into his fur. The sun is below the trees, the sky is clear, and I am n Childhood is a diffused, popping, punchy sort of confusion that may best be written about in jumbled snippets. If I can't convince you of that, let Binyavanga Wainaina convince you: "Jimmy rolls his eyes and says, 'You’ve lost your marbles.' 'I’m thirsty,' says Cira. 'Me too,' says Jim, and they run, and I want to stand and run with them. My face hurts. Juma, our dog, is licking my face. I lean into his stomach; my nose pushed into his fur. The sun is below the trees, the sky is clear, and I am no longer broken up and distributed. I scramble and jump to my feet. Juma whines, like a car winding down. I pump my feet forward, pulling my voice out and throwing forward to grab hold of their Thirst Revolution. 'Hey!' I shrill. 'Even me I am thirsty!' They don’t hear me." The first half of the book is all this: revolution is in the body, in thirst, while the politics of the BIG world are just chatter, the stuff of adults, but not even their most intriguing stuff. The first half of this book washes over me like a bucket of Lego pieces, not soft, but somehow in their clattering against my lips and closed eyes it is comforting, refreshing. As Wainaina gets older the book gains structure, but still remains unhinged. It works very well at times, but also, as he takes the topics of his life more seriously, I find myself wanting or anchors. And, most of all, I want more characters. In the end, this is a very lonely book. It's colorful, lively, but there no one else is there, and I am left wondering how Wainaina lived, really. Were there lovers? What was life like on a more boring day-- not in poetry, give it to me in the sluggish prose of a less creative writer, just a few pages. In any case, this is a truly spectacular read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kobe Bryant

    I liked the incidental details

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