Title: One Day I Will Write About This Place
Author: Binyavanga Wainaina
Publication date: 2011
All writers when we start have a unique relationship with language. It’s cellular, as different from the next person as a fingerprint. It’s not just voice, it’s more than that. Then we begin searching for places to get published and we’re shown a box, the box called “How Language is Used”. We can climb into the box and find publishing success, or we can stay out of the box and bang our head against our desk. Or- we can be brave. We can say boxes are for cereal and stick with our cellular language, refuse to let go and refuse to allow others to force us. And if you are someone like Binyavanga Wainaina who has been living steeped in a rich multilingual language-stew and is special enough to have sucked that stew into his very being, then something quite magical happens. You’ll produce a book set apart in its bold uniqueness.
Wainaina uses language in his unique and lovely way and when he can’t get it to do exactly what he wants, he forces it. For example, early on we know he’s afraid of Idi Amin and accordions. He then uses accordion as he needs to, respecting his reader enough to follow him. When President Kenyatta dies everyone is anxious and he writes, “We are afraid to be inside the house. Shapeless accordion forces have attacked the universe.”
Not only does Wainaina have a unique relationship with English, he also delves deep into the intricacies of the languages around him which are many. He notices how people change as they shift from one language to another, the language dictating the allowed behaviour. The combi driver is rough and rude in Sheng but then as he nears his home village and begins to speak his local language he becomes the man who helps the old lady with her luggage. And Wainaina can put the flight attendant in her place for her tribalistic tendencies by switching from English to Kiswahili as he says, “Kiswahili, the language of an old civilisation, used to handling diverse people, full of rhetoric and manners, is perfect for revealing unreason.”
Wainaina has a devotion to honest words, to his cellular way of writing. This is what makes the book so moving, so powerful.
Kenyan, Binyavanga Wainaina is the founding editor of Kwani? and winner of the 2002 Caine Prize, but he may be more widely known for his tongue-in-cheek essay “How to Write About Africa”. This book is a memoir of his life growing up in Kenya, going off to university in South Africa, his travels around the continent and his eventual discovery that writing is what he’s meant to be doing.
“It often feels like an unbearable privilege – to write…Sometimes I want to stop writing because I can’t bear the idea that it may one day go away. Sometimes I feel I would rather stop, before it owns me completely.”
This is a book you will not easily forget.
Review by: Lauri Kubuitsile, a writer living in Botswana. She has numerous published books and was most recently shortlisted for the 2011 Caine Prize.
A memoir of survival and freedom
Author: Tina Okpara (Cyril Guinet)
Publisher: Amalion Press
ISBN : 9782359260168
It’s 6.25am and I have just finished reading Tina Okpara’s memoir; whilst sleep is an overwhelming need, my desire to capture my thoughts are a necessity that I refuse to ignore.
My Life has a Price is a powerful, emotive memoir that depicts the physical, psychological abuse, the brutal torture and over 4 years of slavery Tina endured at the hands of her adoptive parents, Linda and Godwin Okpara.
Tina’s abuse was prolonged, hidden by Godwin’s celebrity status, allowing ‘so called’ responsible adults to turn a blind eye to this child’s plea for freedom. Her bravery and remarkable tenacity to escape her hellish existence is amazing. The level of brutality that her adopted family inflicted whilst shocking, only makes Tina’s survival even more astonishing.
The balm that may soothe the reader, comes from Tina’s determination to overcome her harrowing past and her ambition to have a career caring for others. The unanswered question, “Why she still uses her adoptive parents surname?” is perplexing yet highlights how abused children are left with conflicting emotions and scars that time may never heal.
The simplistic writing style, which sometimes focuses too much on describing the events fails to capture her thoughts and feelings. However the short descriptive sentences paint vivid pictures clearly and quickly, punctuating the traumatic experiences. The opening paragraph itself is gripping, “Rain is falling. My tears are too. The rain falls like a curtain of water, repainting the garden the colour of cement.”
Even though the reader is exposed to startling honesty, extreme vulnerability and stark brutality, you are driven on an inspiring journey that will no doubt have you questioning, ‘how can human beings be so cruel?’ At the same time, this book acts as a indisputable example of how strong the human spirit truly is!
Reviewed by Leanna Benjamin
Leanna is a short story writer, former radio presenter, the driving force of Divine Creations a collective set up to produce and sell handmade jewellery to raise funds and awareness of Action for M.E. She is also setting up the Useful Craft Project which will enable disabled people like herself to learn a variety of crafting techniques, which can be used to make beautiful gifts.