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One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  1,725 ratings  ·  263 reviews
*A New York Times Notable Book*
*A New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice*
*A Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year*

Binyavanga Wainaina tumbled through his middle-class Kenyan childhood out of kilter with the world around him. This world came to him as a chaos of loud and colorful sounds: the hair dryers at his mother's beauty parlor, black mamba bicycle bells, mech
Paperback, 256 pages
Published July 19th 2011 by Graywolf Press
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Apr 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the memoir of a book addict, and Wainaina's savour for language glows from the first. His descriptions dance, they sing, they jump, syncopated, a lively, twisting flow like swift water, throwing rainbows of unexpected images into the air. In a pressing, urgent present tense at all times, his tale is vibrant and always fresh, even when he describes lethargy and depression.

Language itself is his subject at times, as he shares how Kenyan people, with their many mother tongues, use Kiswahili
Abdulkadir Noormohamed
A masterpiece. As a fellow Kenyan I can relate to every detail in Wainaina's story. At times I wondered how non-Kenyan readers would appreciate his humour or witty comments that seemed so personal, so warm and so....Kenyan. I smiled, laughed and even had my eyes well up through the story, because I grew up around the same time as Wainaina, and my childhood has more or less the same images (the trauma of the Moi years, will we ever recover?)The prose was exquisite, the imagery sublime. His story ...more
B. P. Rinehart
"It often feels like an unbearable privilege to write. I make a living from simply taking all those wonderful and horrible patterns in my past and making them new and strong. I know people better. Sometimes I want to stop writing...But I can't stop."

[Update: May 30, 2019]:
Yesterday I found out that Binyavanga Wainaina had died on May 21, 2019, a little over two weeks after I read this book. I'm still processing this information and thinking of the last few pages of this memoir and of his medita
Dec 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like books written with an eccentric style. This would be one. Wainaina does a few things I really liked: give great information in the voice of a child narrator, then switch to that of an adult's, showcase character flaw, give poetic expose. So different. So appealing. I liked also hearing of his struggles as a writer in Kenya, his mention of being friends with Chimamanda Adichie when she was trying to get published, his experience in applying for the Caine prize, etc.

I assume that some of t
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: african, memoirs
As a small boy, the author is watching an Independence Day celebration in a big football stadium. Music plays, and the boy wavers between his 'home home, home squared... your clan...nation of your origin' and the 'home away from home' the new Kenya.

Trumpet caries the first part of the song, sharp and spread outward. Standing trumpets bracket the song with controlled rhythm beats, the loudest part of the song. Mprrahh. No drums. No traditional drums. This is national music, taken from folk songs,
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get into this book. For the first seventy-five pages, I just could not make myself care about Wainaina's life. Fortunately, my interest in the book improved the further I read. Wainaina's young adult years provide the forefront for most of his memoir, with the movements and events in Africa during the 1970s and '80s being a fascinating backdrop. The author provides readers with a younger voice's view of the post-colonial continent and all of its competing elements: pop cult ...more
The beginning of the book follows a young Wainaina as he realizes his quirks, his uniqueness, his awareness that he is somehow different from his older brother, Jimmy, and younger sister, Ciru. As he moves through life as an observant young man, noticing the details often overlooked in everyday life, reminiscent of Joyce's Stephen Dedalus in 'A Portrait...' Wainaina struggles to reconcile his identity with nationhood. We learn a lot about Kenyan history, the tensions between the Gikuyu people, o ...more
Jun 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: own, afro-lit
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Beautifully lyrical memoir and easily one of my favourites.

As I began to read I felt instantly jealous at Binyavanga's mastery of language to create such a tender and at times surreal read. I loved the imagery, I felt emotionally intertwined with his family. His childhood vagueness and interior-living has paid off to create a book that resonated deeply with me. The author's observations of the different African countries he visits and also the different African cultures he encounters are some of
Kate Savage
Nov 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A miracle. Chapter 18 is the best of anything ever created. How does Wainaina remain completely and utterly within both his tender internal life and the buzzing-about world?

Delicious anti-racist rejection of most writing 'about Africa.' (For something more direct, see Wainaina's famous rant: Also, this book is one of the best memoirs on the writing life:

"I am afraid. If I write, and fail at it, I cannot see what else I can do. Maybe I will write and peop
Darryl Suite
Feb 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Loved this. This book has it all. Wainaina knows how to paint an image and knows how to make that image linger. This is a love letter to Africa: the good and the bad (historically and personally). Loved the references to pop culture, music, political movements, and fashion. It helped add to the vibrancy of the narrative. I learned some things and investigated others. I was truly invested in his life: his family, his schooling, his struggles, his passions. There's something about Wainaina's writi ...more
Mar 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Amazing memoir. I loved every bit of it!! I watched a lot of interviews with Binyavanga, so when I was reading the book, I read it in his voice and it made my reading experience even more enjoyable, haaha. (We read his "How To Write About Africa" essay when I was in college and I enjoyed his satire..). I loved how he took us through his life as a child, his secondary school years, university life to present day. I loved his relationship with his sister Cir
Cynthia K
I loved it. I wish I read it when he was alive, but I’m still glad that I read it when I did. It came to me at the perfect time. It’s been so long since I read a book about Kenya, by a Kenyan, I’m still reading Dust by Yvonne and that’s a whole other story😜, so this was much needed and appreciated.

The first part of the book was most enjoyable. I loved all his stories about Nakuru, his home, his family, his crushes, school. Maybe I am biased because he was queer, or maybe because he wrote about
Mbogo J
Jun 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Some years back when Michael Jackson died, I came across lots of stories on how his songs were topping charts all over the world. To me [then] this seemed hypocritical, you had all these years to listen to Thriller, why did you wait until he died to listen to it? A few years later when Prince died, I was no longer a teenager and I understood fully why everyone was blasting Purple rain and the ultimate touching scene when major landmarks were lit with a purple hue as a farewell ode to Prince.

Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My thoughts:
• At first it took me a while to get into the flow of the book but for me this book was a series of vignettes/thoughts – some very brief and some a little longer. There were times when I was fully engaged and others that I was not quite sure what was going on.
• For the book is divided into the three stages of the author’s life – coming-of-age (childhood into adolescence as become more aware of the influences outside of family) – college years/young adult – adulthood and each part had
First, a complaint about the recording of the audiobook version. The narrator does a fine job of rendering the accents of different people. But throughout the recording, the narrator spoke so quietly that even with the volume cranked way up on my player, I often felt like I could barely hear him. Combine his low speech level with his African-accented reading and I found it really hard to listen to this. I wish I'd read the book instead.

That said, I really enjoyed the book. The writing felt alive
Aug 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
To savor.

Early on, like Joyce that one could understand. More coherent later, mirroring (as I see it) Binyavanga's integration into the World and his growing ability to exist within it and merge its "patterns" a bit with his dreaminess.

Along with The Grapes of Wrath and Bhabra's Gestures, one of my very obvious top 3 of 2011. Humane, individual, important, Real. Subtle, good-naturedly ironic, jarring, hot-African-summer sweaty.
Aug 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding evocation of living in (primarily) East Africa. This was so much better than 'Looking for Transwonderland'. Moving, gripping, even though you know, because it is an autobiography, how it will turn out. A real insider's view. I'm sure I missed a lot and it took me a few pages to get into it but I heartily recommend it.
Jerome Kuseh
Aug 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: african
Brilliant! Binyavanga is one of those special writers who can use many words yet it never feels excessive or boring. His storytelling is unconventional, humorous without feeling forced. ODIWWATP is a memoir that isn't about giving everything in detail or defending actions. Certainly worth reading.
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
It took me awhile to start enjoying Wainaina's memoir. For one thing, I thought that it was a novel and I kept waiting for the plot to start. This was my error, since "a memoir" is noted in the right corner of the book’s cover.

Wainaina grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. Both his parents have college educations. After independence, the country invested heavily in education and built schools all over the country, making higher education accessible to masses of young people who were previously shut out of
Jun 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in contemporary Africa
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 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 a
Dylan Armes
Nov 30, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The only thing that is important for you take out of this review is that you should read this book if:

1) You like autobiographies
2) You are interested in Kenya OR
3) You like books that are so well-written and so emotionally stirring that you will likely find yourself on the brink of tears.

If for some reason you haven't already ordered this book (I can only assume that you exclusively read Laurel K. Hamilton and her ilk, you sad human, you) I will expound on my review:

This book, by Binyavanga Wai
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
I highly recommend Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2011 memoir, especially if you are Kenyan. It’s refreshing to read literature from the neurotic mind of a thoroughly postmodern Kenyan. Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s generation couldn’t afford to focus on the individual when Africa was at an important crossroad that demanded its intellectuals accept the burden to be griots of the dissapearing past, and architects for a future emancipated and fully realized Africa. We are not as confident as Thiong’o or Chinua Ache ...more
May 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: around-the-world
Impressionistic account of the author growing up in a middle class Kenyan family, with a lot of self-deprecating humor. Towards the end, things get more serious as the author struggles with depression as a student, and ethnic tensions surface in Kenya.

I liked the observations of how multilingual people construct different 'selves' for different languages (a recurring theme throughout the book):
I switch to Swahili, and she pours herself into another person, talkative, aggressive. A person who
Oct 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really wonderful, absorbing memoir about growing up in Kenya in the 70s and 80s, being part of the first generation to be born after independence from British rule. Wainaina's prose is the real joy here, riffing on language, meandering but never rambling, often suggestive rather than direct, and only rarely getting away from itself. (This seems to happen more at the beginning of the book than later on.) I did want this to cohere a little more—it's not quite a memoir proper, but more than a serie ...more
Brian Kivuti
Jun 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is the first book I've ever read depicting the middle-class experience in 1960's-1990's Kenya. Being Kenyan myself, born in 1988, there's something about that that lifts the history of my country before my birth into something more than abstract history; finally creating the first portrayal of lives that are in any way like my own, growing up as an African, gay, middle-class, arty man in Kenya. So, not in 'any way like my own', rather, very much like my own life. I think what I experienced, ...more
Divya Pal Singh
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a vivid and lyrical creative effort- yet convoluted - like a van Gogh painting.

Here is an example of the author’s beautifully crafted prose – this being about filial love, “My father is like warm bread: he smells good and radiates good biology, and my enzymes growl and glow around him.”

The author captures accurately the fake, put on drawling accent of RJs, “… foreign influenzes are invecting us, secret foreign influenzes are infringing us, invincing us, perfecting our gildren, preaking o
Zuzana Kubáň
Jun 28, 2020 rated it liked it
I have generally enjoyed reading this book, although it was not in any sense “ground breaking”. Personally, the main source of enjoyment was simply his description of historical events in Kenya and South Africa between the 1980s and early 2000s from his perspective.
The book might be of interest to anyone who wants to get a personal perspective of someone living in and visiting multiple post-colonial states in Africa or someone who just wants to hear a few random narrated stories that are based
Easton Smith
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Childhood is a diffused, popping, punchy sort of confusion that may best be written about in jumbled snippets. If I can't convince you of that, let Binyavanga Wainaina convince you:

"Jimmy rolls his eyes and says, 'You’ve lost your marbles.'
'I’m thirsty,' says Cira.
'Me too,' says Jim, and they run, and I want to stand and run with them. My face hurts. Juma, our dog, is licking my face. I lean into his stomach; my nose pushed into his fur. The sun is below the trees, the sky is clear, and I am n
Kobe Bryant
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
I liked the incidental details
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Binyavanga Wainaina was a short story writer, essayist, and journalist.

He was the founding editor of Kwani?, a leading African literary magazine based in Kenya, and he directed the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Artists at Bard College.

He won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing, and wrote for many journals, including Vanity Fair, National Geographic, One Story, Tin House, Virgin

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