One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir, with details of various African backgrounds and his sensitive artist’s perspective, paints a poignant and lively picture.

Wainaina’s memoir of his life in Africa begins with his childhood in Kenya, follows him through university in South Africa, to a family reunion in Uganda, and on to his travels throughout Kenya, to land him finally in New York State as a writer and professor. His tale, however, is far from simply a recounting of one man’s life. At its heart, the book is the story of an artist, his struggles as a child to adjust to his view of the world and his discovery of writing as an outlet. His perspective as a child verges on the fantastical as he confuses colors with shapes and objects with sounds. The lyrical, imaginative writing throughout the book reflects this unusual vision. Wainaina paints pictures with words; his writing is reflective and playful and worth lingering over. Music, too, plays a role–almost as another character–as he describes his intense reactions to the music of Kenya, of Africa and of the world.

Another worthwhile aspect of this book is its intelligent and informed study of the politics of the African continent and the diversity of Kenyan perceptions. Wainaina tells of the battle between tribalism and a united Kenya, and the richness of linguistic and cultural perspectives there. Politics, however, is never the main subject; it is merely a background to his personal story. The Africa evoked is captivating and will be exotic and new to many readers.

Wainaina’s memoir is by turns funny, sad, hopeful and occasionally cynical, but always engaging. Fanciful abstractions of his environment and instructive tales of African politics combine to give us a fascinating vision of his world.

This review originally ran in the July 22, 2011 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!

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