Brief Review: One Day I Will Write About this Place – B. Wainaina.[Vol. 4, #16]

July 29, 2011

 

A Brief Review of

One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir.
Binyavanga Wainaina.
Hardback: Graywolf Press, 2011.
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Reviewed by Rebecca Henderson.

The author bio for Binyavanga Wainaina relates his numerous accomplishments recommending him as a preeminent African writer of our time: founding editor of the African literary magazine Kwani?, winner of the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College. It only takes a few pages of reading his new memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, to see why literary critics love him and why he has become a leader among writers in his region. Wainaina’s skill with words is obvious — he puts them together imaginatively to form intense images of his family memories, to produce the sounds of regional dialects, to paint scenes of Kenya, South Africa, Uganda, and Rwanda that vividly portray the years of his childhood and youth.

Despite all these achievements, One Day I Will Write About This Place was a difficult book for me to get into. The literary devices seem too self-aware and deliberate, creating a distance between the reader and the story. In a memoir, the story should pull a reader in and give identifiable, relatable experiences told in a distinct way. Wainaina definitely tells his story in a unique way, but his presentation of the details of the story, including his presentation of himself and other characters, only serves to hold the reader at arm’s length. So much of what he has written in this memoir is too stream-of-consciousness and disjointed to allow the reader to become involved in the overarching story. I write this as someone who enjoys reading poetry as well as poetic prose, who doesn’t mind working a bit to dig out the meaning of authors’ words through their unusual technique. And yet, One Day I Will Write About This Place seems overly preoccupied with its own unusualness. I walked away from the book with a new curiosity about African history in the 20th century, but without much sympathy for the main character of the memoir or lasting impact from the story he tells.