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The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope
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Tour d'Afrique M-Z Books 2012-16 > Kamkwamba: The boy who harnessed the wind | Malawi (Tour D'Afrique) first read: Mar 2013

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message 1: by Muphyn (last edited Mar 09, 2013 03:27PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments This is an early discussion of the book. If you don't want to discuss the book now, join us in April for an open discussion!

It seems that quite a few of you have already finished reading our Malawi book, so I thought I'd set up the discussion thread now so you can start getting into things if you want! :)

Please make sure you use spoiler tags for posts during March (as appropriate, obviously :) ). Thanks!

I'll try and start the book this week.


message 2: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote: "It seems that quite a few of you have already finished reading our Malawi book, so I thought I'd set up the discussion thread now so you can start getting into things if you want! :)

I'll try and ..."


oh i was going to ask everyone about this...we had decided last year to keep the discussion closed until the second month of each stop...but i just finished the book and i'm anxious to discuss it and wanted to see if it would be okay to break the "rule"! hahaha! muphyn's moderating powers have come to my rescue!

Let's maybe just remember to use spoiler tags in case others are planning to join us next month. But next month, the discussion will be 100% open...


message 3: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Oops, sorry, I did mean to ask you, Marieke, but then got carried away, and I'm so keen to read the book myself and don't want to wait a month! :)

Yes, please keep in mind to use spoiler tags, very easy to set up (just click on "some html is ok" above the comment box if you don't know how to do it).


message 4: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote: "Oops, sorry, I did mean to ask you, Marieke, but then got carried away, and I'm so keen to read the book myself and don't want to wait a month! :)

Yes, please keep in mind to use spoiler tags, ver..."


no problem. ;)

i also realize that the folder is marked April, so perhaps we could just warn people not to join in until they have read the book.

anyway, i REALLY LOVED THIS BOOK. and i didn't expect to.


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

I thought this was a very hopeful book.


message 6: by Muphyn (last edited Mar 09, 2013 03:42PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Here's a TED interview with William Kamkwamba, it's nice and short. :)

And here is his actual TED Talk.

Watch the interview first and then his talk! :)


message 7: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote: "Here's a TED interview with William Kamkwamba I found interesting, it's nice and short."

yeah...the funny thing is, i had no idea he did that and that was a part in the book i got really choked up about. i watched the TED talk earlier today, and also found a clip of him on the Daily Show. i'll come back to link to it.


message 8: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Osho wrote: "I thought this was a very hopeful book."

i agree. i want to say more about that but my brain is not cooperating.


message 9: by Muphyn (last edited Mar 09, 2013 03:29PM) (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "no problem. ;)

i also realize that the folder is marked April, so perhaps we could just warn people not to join in until they have read the book..."


Ok, I've made some edits to my first post and the topic name. So sorry!! Completely forgot about the agreement/rule! :( Just got too excited. :)


message 10: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Muphyn wrote: "Marieke wrote: "Muphyn wrote: "Oops, sorry, I did mean to ask you, Marieke, but then got carried away, and I'm so keen to read the book myself and don't want to wait a month! :)

Yes, please keep i..."


no worries! really. it was kind of an experiment. i'll have to ask for feedback on that somewhere.


message 11: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Haha, yeah, we should. At least we know who to blame things on if an early discussion thread opening isn't what everybody wants! ;)


Jenny (Reading Envy) (readingenvy) | 124 comments I like to discuss as/after I read and just ignore threads until I'm ready!


message 13: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
I'm the same way Jenny...perhaps we should just scrap that new idea and do things the way we always did them.


message 14: by Monika (new) - added it

Monika (vitabuvizuri) | 9 comments I love this group, i'm from Tanzania and i didn't know this book or the boy who inspired it. Thank you guyz, just watched his TED talk. Coolest kid ever


message 15: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Monica wrote: "I love this group, i'm from Tanzania and i didn't know this book or the boy who inspired it. Thank you guyz, just watched his TED talk. Coolest kid ever"

wow...did you read the book yet? i'd love to know what you thought when he went to Arusha. :)


message 16: by Monika (new) - added it

Monika (vitabuvizuri) | 9 comments No have not, just ordered it from Amazon. When he came, I must have been completely oblivious of it, with little availability of books I only read whatever came to me, so I missed his talk(back then didn't know TED existed)to tell you the truth I wasn't very familiar with internet either which made a lot out of reach!lol
Now I'm determined to see the Ted center, regardless of who will be speaking next time i go home.


message 17: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Monica wrote: "No have not, just ordered it from Amazon. When he came, I must have been completely oblivious of it, with little availability of books I only read whatever came to me, so I missed his talk(back the..."

i think you'll really enjoy this book. he didn't know what TED was, either! i didn't really know anything about this book before it was chosen. i wasn't at all aware of his story. He really is the coolest kid ever (except he's grown up now lol)


message 18: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 660 comments I've just started into the book, but as I've said before, my reading style is such that spoilers don't "spoil" anything for me. Liking the beginning of the book so far. The story of his father's alcoholic youth is interesting. I think few people survive and recover from that kind of start.


message 19: by Tinea, Nonfiction Logistician (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tinea (pist) | 406 comments Mod
Well, glad you all started talking early because I was going to skip this one but I must say you're excitement is contagious, so I just ordered it from the library. :)


message 20: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Ooo weee! Then lets scrap that plan for sure and just do things the way we always did. :)


message 21: by Muphyn (new)

Muphyn | 816 comments Marieke wrote: "Ooo weee! Then lets scrap that plan for sure and just do things the way we always did. :)"

*laugh* YES, let's!! There's less room for me to stuff up if we do! :D :D


message 22: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 660 comments I'm still not very far into the book, but I think it is very well written. The narrator and the "ghost writer" must have been able to work well together in order for the narrative to flow so smoothly and with so much detail.


message 23: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Andrea wrote: "I'm still not very far into the book, but I think it is very well written. The narrator and the "ghost writer" must have been able to work well together in order for the narrative to flow so smooth..."

For me, it kept getting better and better. I thought it was really well done and I like to think the writer captured the narrator's personality really well. I thought he was really likeable and self-deprecating in a really nice way.

Also...I didn't realize Malawi had such an awful famine so recently. :(


Melanie | 171 comments I read this one awhile back after I saw the author as a guest on John Stewart's Daily Show. There was just something so hopeful and geniune about him that I ordered the book the next day. I am glad I did :) Very happy to see everyone else is enjoying it too!


message 25: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Wow I said "really" a lot of times.

Melanie--I keep meaning to post a link to that Daily Show episode!


message 26: by LDB (new) - rated it 4 stars

LDB | 66 comments I just finished this and really enjoyed it. I want to put this book in the hands of any kid who ever complains about having to go to school! Just think how many more of these small wonders remain undiscovered in some poor, undereducated village where they aren't able to get a proper education or even access proper healthcare or a proper diet. We all have someone (or multiple someones) in our past that helped change the direction of our lives or helped us get where we are, but what happened with this kid is particularly heart-warming. Can't wait to hear what others think after finishing the book.


Beverly | 543 comments My thoughts:
• There is no doubt that this is a very inspirational story of what intelligence, determination, imagination, a positive attitude of hope and a little help from your friends can prove to be powerful motivators even under dire circumstances.
• This book is divided into three parts:
o The first part describes the rural culture, economy and history of Malawi as through the eyes of William (narrator) and how this affected him, his family and his friends
o This was the most interesting part of me as I got an understanding of Malawi
o This section also shows how William’s strong family unit, his father’s strong presence provided a strong sense of worth and his expectations for his children, his parents ability to not let their moral/ethical standards be demoralize during the time of famines provided the foundation to be optimistic during the hard times.
• The second part tells the story of how William came to built a windmill and provide improvements to his living conditions
o Necessity is the mother of invention and William’s natural curiosity along with his natural intelligence to decipher scientific principles based on limited knowledge shows the importance of providing educational instruction to all.
o William built the windmill for stuff most of us would consider “trash” and do not give a second thought to throwing away.
• The third part was about others finding out William’s invention, their support of him and the world finding out about his accomplishments
o I am glad William got the attention of others who provided the necessary opportunities to him to receive his acclaim and to further his studies and develop his talent.
o It is obvious on how easy he could have been overlooked – and thus having to assume the role of being a farmer living from one planting cycle to the next
o Liked the description of how witchcraft was directed to William as the cause of the famine
o Disappointing that when initially his talent and accomplishments was brought to the attention of the education ministry that they dismissed him and he still had difficulty getting a position in a science-based secondary school. Note: William is currently enrolled in Dartmouth (Class of 2013)
• William’s personality definitely shines through on the pages.
• While this is an inspiration story for me the details of the building of the windmill and his thinking through of the details and the exploration of the scientific principles was a overdone and I found my attention wandering through the second half of the book.
• William deserves all of the accolades and opportunities he has received so far and I enjoyed learning how he has provided for his family, and friends and wants to not only help them with their dreams but also his country.
• This book felt me wondering how many more “Williams” are out there – that may not have not have an opportunity to showcase their talent.


message 28: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
his descriptions of looking for pieces of "trash" for his windmill and radios and the like, made me recall a site i used to visit, i think it was afrigadget, which shows African people building and re-building things that many of us in the U.S. and elsewhere just throw away.

even though i marveled at his ingenuity, i also noticed that people in his community considered him crazy or possibly on drugs...so it's not like people affected by the same things as himself universally accepted him and the things he was trying to do. he had to fight for recognition...or not so much fight, but block out all the negativity that came his way from time to time.

i thought the librarian at the school was an awesome person...as librarians usually are! :)


Beverly | 543 comments Marieke wrote: "his descriptions of looking for pieces of "trash" for his windmill and radios and the like, made me recall a site i used to visit, i think it was afrigadget, which shows African people building and..."

Yes, William was definitely his own person and was committed to what he needed to do. He had the personality and self-confidence to let the comments of others "roll off his back". I also thought that came from the support of his father and the respect his father had in the community that helped William be able to keep moving forward.

And yes librarians are wonderful!


message 30: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Definitely: he has a really special family!

With the discussion rejuvenated, I am feeling like I want my own copy of this book. :)


message 31: by Diane , Head Librarian (new) - rated it 4 stars

Diane  | 470 comments Mod
I am really enjoying this book. William is very resourceful and motivated young man. I love stories like this.


message 32: by [deleted user] (new)

What a fabulous story! William is quite a young man! Very inspiring and uplifting story! Next time my power goes out - I won't be complaining at all


message 33: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Indeed! I was really surprised at how much I liked this book and I find myself thinking about William from time to time. I'm so glad his story got published :)


Christian | 6 comments To be honest, i was a bit sceptic about what this success story promised to be and suspected some kind of naive assertion of western stereotypes.

Instead i found an affectionate portrayal of Malawian social and family life, always ironic and humorous, simply literature at its best. It gets hard to take, when he sketches with the very same easyness and irony all the atrocious dynamics of local corruption, political mismanagement and negligent advice by the international community against the background of the imense suffering of his family and his entire country.
The real grandiosity of this book, is not the building of the windmill and the technical achievement that stands for, but the optimism and the never even questioned believe in humanity of William, no matter what.
A powerfull read!


message 35: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
That was my initial skepticism about the book, too! I was totally surprised by it.


Barbarac (bcb72) Same here. I thought it was going to be a "Hollywood" version of the boy's life. But it wasn't. I came to know a great person and at the same time got to know a bit about Malawi's history, which I have to admit I knew nothing about. Well, while I'm being honest I'll add that I only heard about Malawi when Maddona adopted a boy from there. Pretty bad I know, specially since Geography was my favorite subject in school. I loved studying all the maps of Africa and Asia...but I'm behind on all geographical changes since the late 80's.


message 37: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
There are 53 I mean 54 countries in Africa! It's totally okay not to know all of them. :)


message 38: by Tinea, Nonfiction Logistician (last edited May 25, 2013 10:48AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Tinea (pist) | 406 comments Mod
I just finished this one. I really loved it! What an enjoyable, funny, and engaging narrator, even when addressing the worst possible conditions. Like Christian above, I found the book very emotional precisely because of Kamkwamba's humor and hopefulness. I posted a review, but I would love to get other opinions on some of the questions I had about the book:

1) How do you feel about the 'feel good' framing and media surrounding this work? As an individual's memoir, it's certainly a happy and inspirational little story of a boy genius overcoming crazy odds, but in the end I thought it did a disservice by focusing only on Kamkwamba's 'pulling himself up by the bootstraps' story. While the book presented all the political, economic, and ecological constraints he faced, it didn't really address them directly. We're left with a narrative that technology and genius will overcome, and I just don't think that's true. I though it was kind of sad that Kamkwamba's genius was 'wasted' in some ways, not just because he lacked education & wasn't 'discovered' early enough, but because he had to spend his genius on re-inventing something that people with money have had access to for over a hundred years. I wish the genius and the international love/donations/fever could be directed at the political obstacles instead of the technological obstacles-- because the tech really is already available. Like food in the famine, it's really a problem of distribution.

2) I'm curious if anyone has any insights into the co-author's role. What made this book so powerful was how strongly Kamkwambe presented himself, how unmediated the story was. I'm curious to what degree the story was his, and how much intervention and input the co-author had. I'm reminded of how the co-author/researcher/writer in Singing Away the Hunger: The Autobiography of an African Woman was so careful to explain her role and to what degree the storytelling was Mpho's and to what degree it was a translated/edited/mediated secondhand story.


Christian | 6 comments Tinea, very comprehesive review. The questions you raised i did ask my self at the time of reading.

as for 1) As suggested in my previous post, i dont see an optimism towards technology as the central message of the book, maybe a secondary at best. As you stated, the boy doesn't invent anything new, but rather reimplement existing concepts. Nonethless it is his creativity and determination to attain his goal, where everybody - close or foreign - only sees impossibility and waste. Therefore the scenes and images from the garbage dump, where he discovers a good part of his equipement, are very strong ones.

And for me that is more a general optimism, from Africa, that lost continent, where everybody only tends to find failure and deterioration, that it's possible to overcome the problems with the will to do so, technology, here, being the mere means to that goal.

2) The question of the co-authorship should indeed have been adressed more clearly by the book. But i guess actually at least the finalised version might not be Kamkwamba's. As he tells himself, his English is a somewhat basic one, giving him a hard time to speak at that conference, and his readings mostly consists of construction books, his talents also mostly consist of engineering and maths. So i guess a good part of strucuture and development of the book might come from Bryan Mealer.
Nonetheless the book delivers a really authentic insider's view.


message 40: by Marieke, Former guide & Chief Chatterbox (new) - rated it 5 stars

Marieke | 2838 comments Mod
Those are good questions, Tinea...i'm still thinking them over since i first saw your post earlier today. It's been awhile now since i read the book, so things are not as fresh in my mind.

my personal reaction was kind of...how do i explain...i was cynical going into this book, but then i was totally blown away by it. the "feel-good" framing was not at all what i was expecting, so i think on one level, i'm willing to forgive it its failings. i think, perhaps, some of what you are pointing out is implicit in the book, rather than explicit. for example, i remember feeling sad for William (and a bit punched in the gut imagining myself in his shoes) when it became clear to him that he had not done anything new with the technology he built.

however, i also remember feeling a sense of awe over what humans are capable of...should the apocalypse (zombie or otherwise) come, it seems like we have humans among us with incredible brains (that hopefully zombies will not eat), who will help mankind recover...if that makes sense? sort of like A Canticle for Leibowitz. Not that i want to see us destroy our world.

I'll keep thinking...


message 41: by Nina (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nina Chachu | 205 comments Managed to very belated read, and eventually finish [OK I was dipping into it, mostly at work when IT systems were off] this very inspiring book. Definitely worth reading.


Stephen Matlock (stephenmatlock) | 3 comments I'm sorry I missed the discussion about this book. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and yes, it was rather hopeful and inspiring, mostly due to the charm and intelligence of the main subject.

I didn't mind that the book might have been the result of a writer and a separate narrator. I was interested in the story of the boy.

And alongside that story is the larger story of what we humans are capable of, given education, food, safety, stability, and recognition. The step-by-step narration of the growth in his understanding was just wonderful.


Susan | 70 comments This was a more interesting read than I expected it to be. This is book about Malawi and their struggles with food supply. It is also about a curious boy who cannot continue his education because of these struggles, so he puts his interests to work to help his family by building a windmill out of scrap materials from reading a book. I thought it would be a bootstrap kind of story, but I didn't get that feeling until the last chapter, which I could have lived without, except to learn about the fact that he did get to continue his education and the connection he felt to his fellow classmates. I hope I didn't spoil anything for anyone.


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