Everybody likes a good laugh right? I mean, what would the world be without a couple of chuckles in between; a couple of smiles to make the frowning moments seem worth it? How To Write about Africa (it actually isn’t a self help book for struggling writers, who would have thought?) is one of those moments. From page 5 all the way through to page 48 you will just have a smile on your face and occasionally it will burst, at those moments you will be laughing. The book by the founding editor of Kwani is a compilation of 3 satirical stories that show you Kenya from a serious but hilarious perspective.
I must kick this off by saying if you absolutely don’t understand the basic principles of the theory of sarcasm then don’t read this book, and as an after thought this review as well. The authors (the story in the middle is by an anonymous author) of the short stories featured in this book use sarcasm eloquently to show how writers are failing Africa by putting the wrong picture out there and hence the readers in the west end up with images of a savage wasteland plagued by disease poverty and corrupt leaders. The three stories How to Write about Africa, My Clan KC and The Power of Love Tell the story of several misconceptions about Africa and how the people who are meant to be helping to solve this situation are really not helping and in fact are even propagating the issue to a whole new level. Take for example:
Nairobi is crawling with $5 a day, 25 year old backpackers who came and loved and compassioned and are now beneficiaries of $5,000 a month consulting for the United Nations…while masters students from Kenya are selling fruit by the side of the road for a dollar a day, and live in the Kibera slum the only place where rent is cheap
– Power of Love, Binyavanga Wainaina
The story How to Write about Africa is basically a compilation of every single cliché that has been used (abused?) by writers when writing articles and poems about Africa. With phrases like “Always use the words ‘Africa’ ‘safari’ or ‘Darkness’ in your title” Binyavanga has a way of making you see these phrases around you and open your eyes to the fact that we do play a huge role in perpetrating the falsehood that Africa is but a land of blubbering fools who speak either with clicks, in Swahili or both.
My Clan KC by Anonymous is a story that covers the “Kenya Cowboy” community and tells tales of the white man in Kenya and the lengths to which he has gone to appear Kenyan without completely taking in the Kenyan culture. Then there’s Power of Love that speaks out at NGO’s and so called volunteers to the country.
All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy though, right? The book that will leave you in stitches (not literally of course) also leaves you with some very serious questions in your mind once you are done. Questions like “Am I a hypocrite?” and “Do motives matter?” Somewhere amidst the laughs and the witty remarks Binyavanga still finds a way to touch that nerve in your mind that gets the cogs of self discovery and self scrutiny turning. It is an eye opener that gives you a fresh perspective on society and shines a bright light on the key issues in society that we ignore even though we can’t afford to.
Grammatically there may be one or two errors in the book (or I may just be a Grammar Nazi) and the authors (yes both of them) seem to be very fond of using brackets in their works to insert clauses and/or digressions in their sentences (I do it a lot as well although I have been told that it is wrong and distracting). I should also tell you that at some points the author gets excited and looses you for a second but seems to find himself and come back to earth with a certain grace and explains exactly why he moved in that direction and why it had to be done at that particular point in time.
The book was quite obviously, and quite proudly, written for a Kenyan audience by a Kenyan author who severally refers to Kenya as “my country” and Nairobi as “my city.” I couldn’t help but notice that the book (as was last week’s was) is pretty small and I can’t stop my mind from wondering if my editor has certain preconceived notions about my attention span (I bet he will edit this out). Anyway I digress, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to see Kenya from the perspective of a Kenyan or just wants a good laugh. You should buy this book, especially if you believe (like I do) that the person who said that Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, was being sarcastic.
About The Author
Binyavanga Wainaina is a Kenyan author, journalist and winner of the Caine Prize. Binyavanga Wainaina was born in Nakuru in Rift Valley province. He is launching his debut novel and a memoir titled “One Day I will Write About this Place” in 2011. Following his education, Wainaina worked in Cape Town for some years as a freelance food and travel writer. In July 2002 he won the Caine Prize for African Writing for his short… story “Discovering Home”. He is the founding editor of Kwani?, the first literary magazine in East Africa since Transition Magazine. Since its founding, Kwani? has since become an important source of new writing from Africa; with several writers having been nominated for, and having won, the Caine Prize subsequently. In 2003, he was given an award by the Kenya Publisher’s Association, in recognition of his services to Kenyan Literature.
How to write about Africa can be purchased at Kshs. 300 directly from Kwani? Trust. You can also phone Mike at Kwani? Sales and Marketing for direct orders, on 0721837151 or (020) 4441801. It is also available at these bookshops & supermarkets.