Book Review: One Day I Will Write About This Place | Books & Authors | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
Pin It
Favorite

Book Review: One Day I Will Write About This Place 



One Day I Will Write About This Place

Binyavanga Wainaina
Graywolf Press, 2011, $24


Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina’s memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place is a kaleidoscopic keyhole that offers fresh insights on globalism, tribalism and the decolonizing process. Director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College, Wainaina received the Caine Prize for Discovering Home. Spanning Kenya, Uganda, South Africa and Togo, his memoir conveys the drifts in mood and consciousness that accompany political change with the assuredness of a Rift Valley cattleman reading cloud patterns: “Now that the state is failing, we are held together by small grace, by interpersonal relationships, by trusting body language.”

A lackluster student while pursuing a degree in finance at South Africa’s University of Transkei during the final days of apartheid, the author portrays himself in a solitary slum of literary bohemia—rent unpaid, days spent in bed reading Nadine Gordimer and Saul Bellow amidst “crumbs of cigarette coal” and dirty cups. It is a familiar picture, a cliché that many have lived, but the voice is rangier than most: “The candle roars to light, spluttering like late-night cats fucking near the garage outside.”

A devourer of mass market romance novels as a boy, he imagines early on that he probably has what it takes to publish bestsellers and enjoy a life of sports cars and pizza: “The Argentinean polo player has melting eyes and thick eyelashes ... they heat up blacker and shinier, blacker and velvetier.” Like Joyce or Kerouac, Wainaina has a knack for bending language to display the contours of a child’s perceptions: “Icing tastes in your mouth like Styrofoam sounds when it is rubbed against itself.”

As he comes of age, the idea of the artist’s life begins to seem problematic. After reading Kenya’s most famous writer, the banned and exiled Ngúgí wa Thiong’o, he reflects, “I fear writers; they want to go too deep and mess up the clear stepladders to success. I cannot see myself being this sort of person. I dream of studying advertising.”

His memoir, nonetheless, traces the education of a rough and tumble aesthete with decidedly antibourgeois instincts: a gourmand of barbeque goat and warm beer who parties lavishly with a rural chief; a prober of authenticity who expands vividly on the connection between corrugated metal roofing and the “rang-tang-tang” of Congolese music; an appreciator of advertorial murals and a deconstructionist of sentimentalized negritude. Recalling a painting that hung in his family’s kitchen, he observes, “That look, that slight toying smile, could not have happened with an actual Nandi woman. The lips too. The mouth strives too hard for symmetry, to apologize for its thickness.”

A credible reporter on the complexities of transculturation, Wainaina recounts being on a plane seated next to a white man who chats with him in Kiswahili—”His accent is perfect; his tone, rhythm, everything. His timing is all wrong…And his exquisite politeness is rude….I must nod, and say, ‘Ndio, ahaa, eh? Yes. Ohh!’ Eyebrows up, and eyes wide in mock interest.”

Reading and booksigning 9/16 at 7:30pm, at Oblong Books &  Music, Rhinebeck.
click to enlarge books_one-day-i-will-write-about-this-place_wainaina.jpg
Pin It
Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Hudson Valley Events

submit event
Letters To Wild Women @ Hudson Area Library

Letters To Wild Women

April 6-May 31 — An art exhibition in the library's community room featuring the work of...
Spring Exhibition. Marking Time: The Work of Ernest Shaw @ The Moviehouse

Spring Exhibition. Marking Time: The Work of Ernest Shaw

March 23-June 25 — Ernest Shaw has work in nearly 50 museum, university and public collections,...

View all of today's events

Chronogram on Instagram

Latest in Arts & Culture

  • Five Fantastic Hudson Valley Events for Your Calendar
  • Five Fantastic Hudson Valley Events for Your Calendar

    From world-class live music to a woodworker’s dream sale and Hudson’s hippest reading series, it’s all here, waiting for you.
    • Apr 17, 2019
  • AMR Spring Art Show at the Commons Building
  • AMR Spring Art Show at the Commons Building

    The Spring Show hosted by the AMR Artists, which opens on April 19 at Upstairs at the Commons gallery in Margaretville and remains on view through May 13, will include works by 20 participants working in different disciplines: painting, monotypes, photography, tapestry, installation, and even jewelry.
    • Apr 11, 2019
  • Turkuaz & Brass Against Play BSP Kingston on April 19
  • Turkuaz & Brass Against Play BSP Kingston on April 19

    Radio Woodstock and BSP Kingston have teamed up to bring something very funky to Uptown Kingston this Spring. On Friday, April 19, the nine-piece power-funk ensemble Turkuaz takes their rainbow-themed, dance-heavy show to BSP Kingston’s historic back room theater.
    • Apr 10, 2019
  • More »