Saturday, 7 September 2013

Mr. B’s Reading Year No. 4: One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina (2011)

We went across to Mr. B’s in Bath to listen to Alexander Fuller, brilliant author of Gone to the Dogs and Under the Tree of Forgetfulness about family life in Zambia and Zimbabwe, both of which will make you laugh out loud and cry.  This book, One Day I Will Write About This Place, was one that she recommended as a rare example of an honest and direct one by an African about their Africa. This is autobiographical, covering the early life of Binyavanga and is a chaotic romp from his early life in Kenya, through troubled adolescence, to university and even more troubled drop-out in South Africa, then back to the arms of his family in Kenya.  A measure of normality and a job, but all the time, he is reading, reading, reading – so, yes, he starts writing.  And he writes well.  Congolese music, sights, smells – the first impressions and feelings powerfully laid down as childhood memory are here.  There are his lows of dropping out in South Africa, where his beloved sister tries to keep him going, and having to return home to face his parents - but family are family.  People, communities and tribes he meets are fascinating and all the time, the background politics shape the city of Nairobi and the interactions between tribes.  He is of the “ruling” Kikuyu, but their place in Kenyan society is equivocal.  His mother also comes from the land of my birth, Uganda, torn apart by Idi Amin.  They travel there to western Uganda to visit the family, passing through places and landscapes that stir faint memories for me.  Read this book.  There is charm, wit, interest and much to learn – Binyavanga grows up, but this universal passage is an individual, unusual and vivid one in this book.
My parents, my sister and I used to live in this bungalow at Arapai Farm Institute, near Soroti, Uganda.