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One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir Hardcover – July 19, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Harried reader, I'll save you precious time: skip this review and head directly to the bookstore for Binyavanga Wainaina's stand-up-and-cheer coming-of-age memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place. Although written by an East African and set in East and Southern Africa, Wainaina's book is not just for Afrophiles or lovers of postcolonial literature. This is a book for anyone who still finds the nourishment of a well-written tale preferable to the empty-calorie jolt of a celebrity confessional or Swedish mystery.” ―Alexandra Fuller, The New York Times Book Review

“[An] astonishing, dreamy memoir. . . . Words quickly become [Wainaina's] life, especially as he grows up to become one of Africa's intellectual leaders, but never does he lose that magical, deeply felt sense of language. And as his readers, neither do we.” ―, Summer Reading List

“One of Kenya's young literary stars.” ―Vanity Fair

“Glimmering, strobe-lit language . . . [One Day I Will Write About This Place] reveal[s] a complex, cosmopolitan African experience too rarely depicted in books.” ―Teju Cole, GQ, "Book of the Year Club"

“Language is clearly the author's preferred mode of structuring the world, but it is also the plaything he uses with idiosyncratic grace and brilliant immediacy to capture 'the scattered, shifting sensations' of memories and emotions long past.” ―Kirkus Reviews, from their "BEA Big Books" issue

“Wainaina paints pictures with words; his writing is reflective and playful and worth lingering over. . . . The Africa evoked is captivating and will be exotic and new to many readers. Wainaina's memoir is by turns funny, sad, hopeful and occasionally cynical, but always engaging. Fanciful abstractions of his environment and instructive tales of African politics combine to give us a fascinating vision of his world.” ―Shelf Awareness

“From an early age, Wainaina's outlook on the world around him was characterized by his vivid imagination, from his vision of the suns rays poking through the grass as 'a thousand tiny suns' to the 'hot snails of thick feeling' that suffuse his body during a hot bath. Throughout it all, he is keenly in tune with those who are outsiders, particularly his mother, a Ugandan who is the subject of xenophobic attacks from her neighbors.” ―The New Republic

“This self-portrait of the artist as a young African man is the story of an outsider coming into his own, but it's Wainaina's capacity for language that sets it apart. Growing up in a place where people use many tongues--Kiswahili, English, Kikuyu and dozens of others--interchangeably serves him well in weaving together lyrical, impressionistic scenes from his past. More than just pretty prose, however, ODIWWATP does justice to the complex place that's much more than the sum of tidy facts unenlightened Westerners may know about it.” ―Time Out New York

“A narrative with its own galloping rhythm. . . . Wainaina is driven by a need to absorb the experiences of those around him and then express them in his unique style, and he is at his best when he is face-to-face with his subject. The result is a rich and vivid depiction of the author's life and a joy to read.” ―New Pages

“[A] very good, if not remarkable, book. If you are a Western reader it will remind you of two things: 1) Nothing you have ever heard of before; and 2) Dylan Thomas when writing about his own childhood. The language is similarly startling and luminous. . . . This book is important because it brings us news from a part of Kenya seldom heard from. And it brings us a new voice, one that is anthropomorphic, poetic and pointed.” ―Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

About the Author

Binyavanga Wainaina is the founding editor of Kwani?, a leading African literary magazine based in Kenya. He won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, and has written for Vanity Fair, Virginia Quarterly, Granta, and The New York Times. Wainaina directs the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (July 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555975917
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555975913
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #641,263 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Georgia on July 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been reading African Literature since the 60's. No book has impressed me as much as this one for its insight into issues that are really happening in East and South Africa. And the use of language by Binj excites me. He is a breath of fresh air when it comes to his description of things personal and in general as well. Read this book, relish the view of Africa that is not at all affected by the Colonial Powers, that is instead a reading from the ground. It is original and it is just fun to read. The descriptions of his growing up in Nakuru, Kenya are priceless. His time getting an "real" education, not university driven. in South Africa shows the power of street smarts. This man is demonstrating the range of his very creative intellect through his experiences. He is a writer to watch in this ignored field of African Literature, just like his friend Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. You want insight into Africa, read both of these authors and see where the new generation of African writers is taking us. Those of you who love the memoirs of Wole Soyinka will be thrilled by Binj and Chimamanda.

Africa is such a deep place if you want to learn more about this incredible landscape you must read Soyinka, Ngugi, Senghor, Achebe, Gordimer, Coetzee, Mphahlele, Ngozi and Wainaina. Now you will have scratched the surface of this place that so many of us would like to spend our days learning more. Good luck discovering a view of Africa unaffected by Europe or America.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Naijaman on September 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I've looked forward to this book for a long time. Having read Binyavanga's writing and having heard him speak,I eagerly waited to see what a "full" book from him would look like. I haven't been disappointed.

Binyavanga writes a heartfelt account of a middle class, book-loving Kenyan boy's growing up, from the 70s through to the 90s, a riotous period. In beautiful poignant language that evoked for me memories of my own childhood in West Africa,he explores issues of class, religion, politics, family and community, subtly and in an engaging manner.

His travels take him to South Africa and Uganda, broadening our view; his chronicles enriched by his perceptive eye;

I had worried that I would find this book too highbrow, but it is written in a deceptively simple language whose beauty had me catching my breath more than once, such as when he writes of "Congo music with wayward voices, thick as hot honey..."

6 years ago, Wainaina published the sharp satirical Granta piece, "How to Write About Africa" In his book, he presents a picture of an African boy growing up in its rich and varied complexity.

Any criticisms? Sometimes he goes off on an almost other-worldly riff but even then, his writing is so evocative that I couldn't hold it against him

Wainaina has kept his promise
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Josephine K on September 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Stung by the raw violence that clears wide swathes of the population every election season, Kenyans are waiting with bated breath for the next Kenyan General Election in 2012. Writers came together in the past to become the institutional memory of our tattered electoral process, and one of these Kenyan writer/editors, Binyavanga Wainaina has stepped in front of the drawn lines to tell his side of the story.

In his book currently flying off the shelves and e-readers we meet, a Kenyan writer understanding Kenyanness. Selling swiftly as one of Oprah's 2011 Summer Reads and ranked 9th most popular memoir on Amazon at this posting, this book is billed as a telling of the stories of `tribal unrest and Western influences on his homeland'. More than that, however, the story he tells, sometimes in rapid-fire fits and starts, becomes a loud voice portraying what many do know about him - writer, traveler and thinker; and what we do not really know very much about - son, student and comrade in culinary exploits and more.

Opening this book, I found out many of the things that I know to be Kenyan were tattooed on its pages. The searing hatred by tribal lines that erupts every other year, the delicate fabric of polite society in Kenya that he translates as the society that says "Who runs things. Who can. Who Can't, and Why not". Many times I could feel the tension running through, indicated in the consistent question Wainaina receives about what is his tribe, really, and why he has such a seemingly strange first name. And before that is answered, it also names the things that we value the most, land, and success - sadly two of the most elusive things for any Kenyan especially today.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Georgia "Peach" on September 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
My favorite authors put words together in a magical way that makes me do a double take - go back and smile at descriptions. (Why couldn't I think of that?) Barbara Kingsolver is one. Binyavanga is another. How many times I returned to enjoy a description over and over while reading One Day I will Write About This Place. What Binj has done with this book is to allow us to enter the common world of a young African man trying to sort out what it all means while maintaining a rhythm that I feel is systemic on the continent. (He will take me to task for such a gross generalization I am confident, still the rhythm of the continent prevails as an undercurrent as we read about Binj's journey, providing a sense of place that is phenomenal and important.)

The fact that I have read several chapters of this memoir before was not a problem for me - placing those stories in a larger context added a new depth. I think this is an important work. I agree with Ngugi wa Thiong'o, that you "feel the drama and vibrations of life" in Kenya. This book is a treasure.
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