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Speak Swahili, Dammit!: A tragic, funny African childhood [Kindle Edition]

James Penhaligon
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.99
Kindle Price: $4.90
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Book Description

The inspiring true story of a young boy’s chaotic life in a remote, wild, corner of East Africa.

James’s childhood is spent on an isolated gold-mine near Lake Victoria, Tanganyika, with just his sister and mother; his father tragically dying through injuries sustained from World War II. His upbringing is mainly left to a tribal ayah called Amina and an elderly Swahili man, and he learns to speak Swahili before English.

In this unusual setting he soon discovers some stark facts about life through tragedy and danger, but it is the local watu, imbued with kindness and irrepressible humour, that save him from despair, and with whom he learns to fish with home-made lines, eat insects and famously abuse the European hierarchy in real Swahili!

Known as ‘Jimu’ to his friends, he marks out his own country with a Sukuma boy named Lutoli, falls deeply in love with the beautiful, but older, German girl Gretchen and throws himself out of the back of a bus to avoid being sent away to school.
Once at school, in Arusha, James tends to mix with other non-conformers and presents a dilemma to teachers – he is a white boy with a ‘black spirit’. His gang gets up to nefarious enterprises, bringing them into a state of permanent conflict with the system.

James is fascinated with the history of Tanganyika back to the time when it was a German Colony until 1918. The unparalleled courage of the German leader Paul von Lettow Vorbeck against the British is a beacon to the young boy of what can be accomplished against adversity

Above all James discovers the world, and life, a little by education, a lot by accident, but overwhelmingly by fate and happenstance, in circumstances few people in the developed world have experienced.

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Editorial Reviews


'An extraordinary, hilarious and heartbreaking book. Shockingly honest, outrageously funny, and yet so true! This is the most valued book I have ever read, and the finest account of friendship, passion and love for the people of East Africa.' Rudiger Vogs, former ABC Correspondent, Kenya (now in Germany). -----'You won't have read one like this. Remarkable experiences shine throughout. Penhaligon's direct, muscular prose moves the tale along briskly, and there's plenty of comedy. As expansive as the continent that begat it, this is a life's tale like no other.' Simon Steele, Asst. Editor, LEAMINGTON COURIER, Warwickshire, UK. ------ 'A lovely book with wonderful descriptions. Intriguing...much between the lines, enough depth for a book-reading circle to fill a season. Thoroughly enjoyed.' John Catton, Editor, RHINO-LINK, journal of King's African Rifles & East African Forces Association - UK. ----- 'Sheer magic of life in the bush shines brilliant writing...A must-read for lovers of East Africa!' Tony Weaver, Asst. Editor, CAPE TIMES, South Africa. ------'Couldn't put it down. Spread the joy! A gem like this is rare, and should be widely read...' Virginia Jones, USA Author of STRONG WOMEN. -----'What a compelling window into a unique part of the Tanzanian experience...a different world, illuminated from a fascinating perspective.' Martin Benjamin, Exec Director, KAMUSI PROJECT INTERNATIONAL, The Living Internet Swahili Dictionary, Switzerland. -----'I laughed out loud...I wept so hard, everyone got worried. Wonderful, colourful, entertaining, and very enlightening. You should read it too!' Juliet Maruru, Director, PRINCESS TRUST, Nairobi, Kenya.-----'Exhilarating, a marvel, a story worth retelling, a thriller, a drama, a love-soap, a comedy, an adventure, all'll itch to share the fun...A roller-coaster of emotions...takes you from anger to fear, panic to laughter, then anxiety builds again... Suddenly your eyes are wet with tears...I never wanted it to end...' Beda Biswalo, Editor, THE CITIZEN, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. -----'A unique view on life, death, sadness and humour... A captivating, enlightening and enjoyable read.' Claire Sabey, Book Reviewer, CORNWALL TODAY, Cornwall, UK.

About the Author

James Penhaligon was born in Africa and grew up on a remote gold mine in Tanganyika, later to emerege as Tanzania. He attended boarding school in Tanzania and Kenya. He studied medicine in South Africa and practised as a family physician before specialising as a psychiatrist in the UK. He is married and has three grown up children. He lives with his wife in Cornwall.

Product Details

  • File Size: 918 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0956890229
  • Publisher: Trevelyan Publishers Ltd (January 15, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00B1WOYY4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #194,736 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorites from Africa January 23, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
OK, this book is not for everyone, but for those who have lived in, traveled in or are just interested in East Africa, this is a really fascinating and funny memoir of growing up in very rural northwestern Tanganika (now Tanzania) in the 1950s and 1960s. James Penhaligon's war-wounded English father and South African mother moved a few months after he was born in 1951 to a gold mine five hours by Land Rover and ferry from the nearest town (Mwanza). As both of his parents are working, he is raised largely by Africans and speaks Swahili before he speaks English. He moves easily between the two cultures, but he often feels most comfortable with his African friends. The usual childhood pranks take on a different dimension when a rogue lion or poisonous snake is involved.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Asante sana, Jimu - Thank you James Penhaligon February 26, 2012
By John
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have read all the reviews - 9 of them - written before this one. I echo and concur with all of them.

I wrote the following to the author:
"James, Jim, Jimu... I have just finished reading 'Speak Swahili Dammit'. I finished it in tears along with Amina and Umali saying kwaheri.
Congratulations for an outstanding book! For me, the reader, I am very glad that you persevered in the hardest thing you ever had to do."

I should explain that James Penhaligon wrote that writing 'Speak Swahili Dammit' was, for him, an incredibly hard task. Also that I, too, grew up in the late Colonial days in East Africa (Kenya, in my case) speaking Swahili almost before I could walk. The parallels and also the stark differences between his story and my rather more protected existence as a child and teenager endeared 'Jimu' (Swahili pronunciation of Jim)to me.

The book is well-written in a distinctive style with great cogency and economy of words in the descriptions. Swahili is widely used, and interpreted, throughout the book. I thoroughly recommend it to any reader, whether or not they have any knowledge of Africa or Tanganyika/Tanzania.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Book January 19, 2012
By Xangis
Format:Kindle Edition
This was a great read, and I learned a bit of Swahili vocabulary while reading it. There are some laugh-so-hard-I-fell-out-of-the-chair moments and the author's writing style has a great flow to it.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a page turner July 9, 2010
By Aurora
I'm not normally a fan of autobiographies, but this book is the exception. This is a fascinating and absorbing read and it kept me turning the pages to see how the story developed. It tells of a young boy growing up in Tanganyika and spending more time in the African than the white community, hence the title. It's a love story, it's funny and tragic and contains the elements of a thriller. James Penhaligan has the ability to use words in a way that paints pictures in my mind, and I when I read it, I was in Africa with him. I'm looking forward to the sequel.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tanganyika Tales... February 7, 2012
I thoroughly enjoyed this book; perhaps it is because I also grew up in Tanganyika...from age 3 to 14. The author has his own style, which I like, and which gives the reader a feel for what life was really like. It took me back to my childhood...which is a good thing because my childhood was a happy one, thanks to the great people of Tanganyika/Tanzania and my parents. His description of events and people rings true and he has a keen memory for the sights, sound, smells and all of the rest of it! This book invites the reader to share the whole experience vicariously...a great adventure to be sure. I shared his sadness at having to leave Tanganyika at age 14, having to enter American society and experiencing reverse "culture shock". But times change and we all had to change with it. This book gives a "snapshot" of the mostly happy times of the pre-independence idyllic life for the children of expatriates, a rich experience that shaped us all for the rest of our lives. After reading this book one will understand why...
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars funny stories but it dragged January 26, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I couldn't motivate to keep myself reading the whole time. I found some of it amusing and interesting as he spoke the local language when his parents didn't.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Speak Swahili, Dammit! June 10, 2012
By Makuti
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I could not put this book down. It is beautifully written, and takes the reader on a unique journey into Jimu's childhood in Africa, surrounded by the African bush, eccentric characters and wild animals. There is heartbreak, excitement, humour and compassion. The characters are extremely well portrayed, and the author's love of Africa and his love of animals shines through. There were many elements of this book that reminded me of Gerald Durrell's writing at it's best.

James has done an excellent job of bringing a magical time in Africa back to life, and this book deserves it's place amongst the top shelf of African memoirs.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great book March 24, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This was a great book. If you have ever lived in East Africa you will enjoy this read. I was born and raised in Kenya and left when I was fifteen. Kenya has always been on my mind. Africa is in my soul, this book really connected with me, because the author had the same experience. He loved Africa and through circumstances out of his control he had to leave with his family in his teens. Much like my experience. The book really touched my heart. It is also full of adventure and humor. Loved it and I think you will too.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing
Disappointingly poorly written with minimal story line
Published 4 days ago by Karen
5.0 out of 5 stars loved it
Having lived out in Africa for over a decade and still remember my Swahili, I did love this book! this writer writes well and successfully weaves humour throughout the book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Catherine
5.0 out of 5 stars Dense, Intense, and Engaging
Unlike other some reviewers, I was only very superficially acquainted with colonial Tanganyika after WWII. James Penhaligon's book is a rich read, sometimes too rich. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Book Maven
4.0 out of 5 stars MZURI SANA!!
Raised in Kenya myself, and having gone to St Mary's sister school - Loreto Convent Msongari - the book certainly tickled my funny bone! Loved it. Read more
Published 2 months ago by LOIS KUHLE
5.0 out of 5 stars Mazuri sana Jimu
Thanks Jimu, for the naked honesty of your story, a refreshing change from the spate of sappy politically correct Tanganyika tales by some authors. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Douglas Kidd
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
This book is very interesting, but hard to read at times. It's very intriguing, and I suggest you read it!
Published 3 months ago by Whitney Hoffmann
5.0 out of 5 stars A "best book" in my library!
I read this book over several months, drawing it out as long as possible, like eating a favorite food in small mouthfuls to make the pleasure last longer. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Margaret M. Carne
5.0 out of 5 stars Prepare to laugh and cry !
This is a wonderful story of James' upbringing in Tanganyika. As an ex-African, I recognised so many of the places and the way of life, but even people who have never been there... Read more
Published 4 months ago by annlb72
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved it!
It reminded of my childhood, growing up with my ayah and speaking swahili long before I could speak french, my home language. Read more
Published 4 months ago by E. Unwin
4.0 out of 5 stars A Remarkable Guide to East African Culture
This is a great little book especially for those who are anticipating an East African safari particularly in Tanzania. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Josef T.
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