I liked this book so much better in the beginning. The plot pulls you along. I loved the Ghosh, and his relationship with Hema. I wanted to know what...moreI liked this book so much better in the beginning. The plot pulls you along. I loved the Ghosh, and his relationship with Hema. I wanted to know what would happen to Marion and Shiva. However I had a huge problem with the character of Genet. I didn't find her actions believable. She was more of a plot device than a real character. There are other characters who fit into that mold, but I don't want to give any of the plot away. I also didn't like the end of the book. The last 50-100 pages I had to force myself through. I knew what was going to happen because of clumsy foreshadowing. But overall it was worth reading. Many parts were beautifully written.(less)
Reading this book brought back vivid memories of the time I spent in Harare, from 1986-1988. City life 6 years after independence was apparently very...moreReading this book brought back vivid memories of the time I spent in Harare, from 1986-1988. City life 6 years after independence was apparently very different from life on remote farms during the war. Fuller describes the sights, sounds and smells of southern Africa, as well as the attitudes of the white Africans. I see that other readers found the racism too much, but it is real. I moved to Africa from a suburban California town with a large black population. I had a lot of black friends in America. I am not racist, but I didn't hang out with the black Africans at school or after school, although my younger brother, about 11 at the time, did have black friends, so maybe it was more of a high school thing.
I enjoyed the story, the horror of growing up in a war zone; the horror of growing up with parents ill-equipped to deal with their personal tragedies and phenomenally bad luck. (less)
I wish I could give this book 3 1/2 stars. I really liked most of it, but the childhood portions with Wainaina going on about the sun splintering into...moreI wish I could give this book 3 1/2 stars. I really liked most of it, but the childhood portions with Wainaina going on about the sun splintering into thousands of suns that breathe and dim and cool... It just seemed like he was trying too hard.
The success of this book, for me, was the author's unique take on what it is to be a Kenyan, an African, a tourist in his own country many times. How to navigate in a country with so many languages and traditions. How the tribalism creeps into politics and day-to-day life. He talks about how in South Africa, where he has lived many years, "to be a new thing is normal" but in Kenya the ultimate hubris is someone who has tried to be something new and failed. "If there is a courtesy every Kenyan practices, it is that we don't question each other's contradictions... We know we sit on top of a rotting edifice; we are terrified of questioning anything deeply." He says, "There is nothing wrong with being what you are not in Kenya; just be it successfully." The first chapter that I really loved was 12, where Wainaina meets a woman in a bar who is foreign, exotic, exciting... Until the illusion starts to shatter and he realizes that she is just a Kenyan, like him.
Wainaina's explanation of how some cultural contradictions or social issues can't be discussed successfully in English, or Kiswahili, or Sheng is so alien to me. I loved the passage where he describes how someone's demeanor completely changes when he switches between speaking Gikuyu and Kalenjin.
Wainaina has a unique perspective on Africa and Africans and I would be very interested in reading more from him in that line.
Full disclosure: I won my uncorrected proof as a Goodreads giveaway. (less)
I refuse to put this on my religion/philosophy shelf. This book, which is supposed to be about "African belief" is about an author who is less interes...moreI refuse to put this on my religion/philosophy shelf. This book, which is supposed to be about "African belief" is about an author who is less interested in exploring Africa than he is in his own comfort. He travels in class, sometimes with high-powered friends and even bodyguards at times, arranging to meet chiefs, who don't really tell him anything. He often goes to meetings and leaves before anything really important is discussed. He mentions over and over that you need to grease palms in Africa, but never seems to bring money or liquor to meetings. (Cheapskate - he lets his guides pay instead.) I kept wondering why Naipaul wrote this book and what he was trying to say. I find his writing unnecessarily complex and difficult to follow. Sentences went on forever with more commas and semicolons than someone like Dan Brown would use in a whole book. A few other things bothered me. 1) Naipaul focuses on the well-being and abuse of animals, but seems not to see the desperation and pain of people that we KNOW is happening alongside in these countries. 2) He is incredibly judgemental, "It was impossible for any rational person to feel that any virtue could come from the remains of these poor animals" (ritual sacrifices). I can find irrationallity in ANY religion. That doesn't make them less valid to the people who believe. 3) He constantly brings up Trinidad, in the way of an "Ugly American".
I have to confess, as I started the book my sister told my some unappealing anectdotes about Naipaul which could have colored my reading of the book, but I really don't think so. He writes almost with the attitude that "I'm an F-in' Nobel Prize winner, I don't have to do the little things."(less)
This book of short stories, told from the point of view of African children in horrific circumstances, fell flat for me. I really didn't like the way...moreThis book of short stories, told from the point of view of African children in horrific circumstances, fell flat for me. I really didn't like the way the dialog was written, in dialect that seemed uneven and pulled me constantly out of the stories. The narrative was uneven, characters' actions were either unexplained or overexplained. I felt removed from the violence of the stories and what should have been gut wrenching to read was instead ho-hum. The longer stories really needed an editor to shape them up.(less)