I had heard quite a bit about the this captivating memoir by Kenyan author, Binyavanga Wainaina. I had checked it out of the library twice before, but did not get around to reading it. I listened to him speak during the PEN World Voices Festival this past May, and I enjoyed his artistry and his camaraderie with the other authors on the stage. I made up my mind, then, that this time I was going to dedicate some time to read this book. What better time than now, with no classes and homework?
Memoirs are not my favorite reads. It is surprising; although I am a huge history buff, memoirs and autobiographies do not interest me as much as one would think they should. Unless tryly compelling, they bring an aspect of reality to my reading pleasure that I do not quite appreciate. They seem like loose historical accounts, peppered with flowery language and scenarios of years past, and a showcase of the prowess in name-dropping. Maybe I am too judgemental and cynical. I far prefer getting lost in fiction. I like to match descriptions and create my own mental images, process the similarities in my own life and essentially build an imaginary world in which the story develops and the characters grow.
To my pleasant surprise, this novel drew me into Wainaina's world in Nakuru and beyond. I was fascinated about his life - what was his childhood like as a middle-class Kenyan in the 1970s; what were the tensions between the ethnic identities and how did they materialize; what were the differences between old Kenya (under British rule) and new independent Kenya from the eyes of a ten year old? His staccato style, brief factual statements that grew into embellished sentences, was a little jarring at first, likely because as early as we learn to read and write, we are taught to use conjunctions. However, once I understood his style, I focused less on the abruptness and dove into his journey from boyhood to manhood. I was sucked into his quirky mind, so unconventional and off-the-wall. I enjoyed reading about the simultaneous competition and discord between him and his siblings. That's familiar. I particularly enjoyed seeing how the middle-class African story can be spun in infinite arcs, yet all intersect in special moments in time.
Though not a quick read, I recommend this book. Read it, and let me know what you think!