Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

domingo, agosto 14, 2011

Binyavanga Wainaina

is the name of this consummate Kenyan writer, and "“One Day I Will Write About This Place" is the new book. The New York Times Book Review by Alwxandra Fuller gets right to the point:

Harried reader, I’ll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina’s stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir, “One Day I Will Write About This Place.” Although written by an East African and set in East and Southern Africa, Wainaina’s book is not just for Afrophiles or lovers of post­colonial literature. This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well-­written tale preferable to the empty-­calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery.

Wainaina's real life thing is reading. And writing. And this is his memoir. A sample after he drops out of the university to read:

“Over the past year,” he writes, “as I fell away from everything and everybody, I moved out of the campus dorms and into a one-room outhouse. . . . My mattress has sunk in the middle. Books, cigarettes, dirty cups, empty chocolate wrappers and magazines are piled around my horizontal torso, on the floor, all within arm’s reach. If I put my mattress back on the bunk I am too close to the light that streams in from the window, so I use the chipboard bunk as a sort of scribble pad of options: butter, a knife, peanut butter and chutney, empty tins of pilchards, bread, a small television set, many books, matches and a sprawl of candles, all in various stages of undress and disintegration.”

And so the book chronicles Wainaina's unwillingness, which he apparently treats not as his choice, but as his inability to do anything except read. Pause at that point. I did. What, I wonder, would have happened to me all those decades ago if I had made the same choice? And look at the enormous array of reasons, real and imagined, theoretical and economic that arose and made it a "bad choice" to do so. Wainaina apparently didn't have the same issues. And he certainly didn't cave in to them. And the results have been remarkable. Fuller explains:

Wainaina was catapulted into the literary spotlight when his autobiographical novella “Discovering Home” was awarded the 2002 Caine Prize, sometimes called “the African Booker.” The work arose from a long, late-night e-mail to a friend, and it retains an unedited familiarity. “There is a problem,” it begins. “Somebody has locked themselves in the toilet. The upstairs bathroom is locked and Frank has disappeared with the keys. There is a small riot at the door, as drunk women with smudged lipstick and crooked wigs bang on the door."

Wainaina followed up that success with “How to Write About Africa,” a provocative essay that appeared in Granta in 2005. “In your text,” he wrote, “treat Africa as if it were one country. It is hot and dusty with rolling grasslands and huge herds of animals and tall, thin people who are starving. Or it is hot and steamy with very short people who eat primates. Don’t get bogged down with precise descriptions. Africa is big: 54 countries, 900 million people who are too busy starving and dying and warring and emigrating to read your book.”

That's enough for me. Time to head for Barnes and Noble and get reading.

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