Book Reviews

Book Review: One Day I Will Write About This Place | Binyavanya Wainaina


There are some books you stumble upon and you just know you’re gonna read it, one way or the other.

Two things drew me to this book –
i. The Title
ii. The ”Oprah Book Club Pick” reference.

As far as book titles go, this is catchy enough and even more awesome when you discover the location of the title in the middle of the book. Plus it is African Fiction, well Non-fiction and I’m trying to read more of them even though I’m not so keen about the genre in general.

One Day I Will Write About This Place is a memoir about the coming-of-age of the author, Binyavanya during the post – colonial Kenya. So, yeah there’s a bit of Kenyan politics here and there and at various times, I found myself making comparisons with that of Nigeria. Surprise! Surprise! They are very much the same except the violence. If the book is anything to go by, then Kenyans are quite violent.

Few things I liked/enjoyed about the book –

1. The writer’s voice.
For someone like me that’s still struggling to discover her voice, I have so much respect for Binyavanya. He didn’t try to sound like Chimamanda or John Green or Simone de Beauvoir or Amos Tutuola, he sounded like himself

– a Kenyan, an African and that’s something I’m yet to come to terms with. I’m not confident enough to show off what I think is my ”voice” and so I’ve no audience. But this guy man decided to break the cliché status-quo and just write and that people, is awesome!

2. The pace and structure of the book.
I loved how fast-paced the book was. There wasn’t any unnecessary drag or explanation or description so I was done in about 48 hours. That’s more like it. I also enjoyed the narratives and how he took me through his childhood, adolescence and adulthood and the various intervals in the process. It made it more pleasant and enjoyable to read.

3. The language.
I felt a tinge of jealousy for the folks who understood Kiswahili and Gikuyu. A mean, how else would I totally enjoy the informality of the book which was filled with tons of slangs and references? I think that contributed a lot to the indigeneity of the book.

4. The tone and relativity.
The word play was majorly responsible for the tone and mood of the book. This guy’s way with words is just…. profound. He took words, turned, twisted and recreated them to make perfect sense and you just can’t help but wonder, I’m sorry, who’s this guy? Who does that? So there was a lot of life and hilarity from places you don’t even expect. And then it was relative. I might not relate to his large extended family but I was able to relate to his struggles as a writer and that for me is even more important.

5. The settings and references.
Binyavanya figuratively murdered Brenda Fassie and adored Micheal Jackson. Before now, I had a vague idea of her background and her music which of course was her selling point but right now, I’m fully aware even though I care less about her. And then, I was taken on a tour from Nakuru to Nairobi to Johannesburg to Capetown, Kampala, Accra, Lome, Lagos and New York. I know I’m not yet enamored with the idea of touring African cities but I think I just had a change of heart.

I don’t think there’s anything I particularly dislike about the book except that he didn’t give a full account of his time lecturing at Bard College with Chinua Achebe and how he became friends with Chimamanda Adiche and his contract with Farafina. I wanted to read about this things. His first published book and the Caine prize for African Writing which he just rushed over. But because it’s a memoir, you can’t really fault this things so I’m taking it as it is and I look forward to reading more of his works.

The soft international jungle on her head parts every so often and we glimpse the roads she used to arrive here, the stitches from the grafted pieces of hair, the patches of bald, the little spurts of darker, kinkier hair pulled brutally into the weave, so brutally that there are little eruptions and scars on her scalp.

– Easily one of my favorite paragraphs.

Rating: ****

(Because of those things he didn’t add, obviously)


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