Nancy Kennedy's Reviews > The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
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's review
Feb 03, 2012

it was amazing
Read in September, 2009

At every funeral in William Kamkwamba's family, mourners make their peace with death as they sing the old hymn, "This World Is Not My Home." Yet William Kamkwamba isn't ready to concede. As long as he is in this world, he has a burning desire to make it a better home for himself, his family and for his beloved country of Malawi.

William grew up in a place where "magic ruled the world." His world and his beliefs were shaped by a community that revered witch doctors and wizards and feared many things: magic hyenas, secret gangs of evil dancers and "witch planes" that snatched children from their beds at night.

But William puts his faith in science. In a local library, really just a few shelves of tattered books, he finds salvation in some old physics and science textbooks. He is riveted by diagrams of energy and electricity. His clever mind is reeling: he begins to take apart radios, bikes, and whatever discarded, dilapidated small appliances and machines he can find. Eventually, he dreams of building a windmill and creating enough electricity to power his family's home and irrigate their crops. He is driven by his quest to banish the hovering dread and harsh realities of poverty and starvation.

William's community, his friends, even his family think he is "misala" -- crazy. And, living as he does in a place that is ravaged by natural and human forces, in which few children are educated, in which men without hope drown their despair in alcohol, and in which governmental corruption and greed all combine to extinguish the dreams of an entire country, perhaps he is a little crazy. His goal is no less than to conquer both Nature and human nature.

Mr. Kamkwamba's book is an inspiring tale that kept me glued to its pages from start to finish. He and his co-writer have produced a story that is compulsively readable and comprehensively descriptive. (In fact, their scope is so wide that the word "windmill" doesn't even appear until 200 pages into the narrative.) The book's breezy, storytelling style reminded me of Alexander McCall Smith's fictional series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency set in Botswana. My only quibble is that the language Bryan Mealer employs to tell Mr. Kamkwamba's story is glaringly Americanized in many places. But, suck it up (as we Americans like to say), and enjoy this incredible story.
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