I’ve been procrastinating like hell on writing up my thoughts on this book but I guess I should explain why I’m so sore about missing Binyavanga Wainaina dj in NYC this week. Wainaina has published several essays and short stories, including Discovering Home which won the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2002 and How to Write About Africa which was turned into a video featuring Djimon Hounsou as the narrator. Though Wainaina is well-established writer, I was largely unfamiliar with him and his work when I decided to read his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place.
Using a sometimes-exhausting first person present point-of-view, Wainaina takes us along as he goes from a shy, imaginative boy raised in Kenya to a writer travelling the world. But it’s not some romanticized journey of triumph. Though interconnected with post-Independence East African politics and his own family life, Wainaina’s journey is largely about internal struggle. When he moves to South Africa for university (because education is no longer being susbisdized by the Kenyan government), he shifts into a deep solitude and a depressive state: he rarely leaves his room which is littered with cigarettes, candy wrappers, and dirty dishes; his sister, who is also in S.A. for university, helps him out by sliding money under his door; and he spends most of his time and money on books. (This all may sound familiar to some of you writers…)
Aside from his strange, wonderful creativity (from a young age he invents words to describe experiences he cannot label in the languages he knows), his experiences in S.A. are what endeared him to me the most. I checked this book out from the library a couple of months ago and I keep renewing it, not because I’m re-reading it but because it provides a sense of comfort for me. I keep it in my writing space (which also serves as my sister’s couch and my bed) as a reminder of what this writing life is sometimes about.
Even if you’re not a writer seeking consolation for the life we sometimes live, I’d still recommend this book based on the Wainaina’s style, knowledge and incredible stories.