Africa is the new-new thing. You can see it all around you. Wal-Mart, IBM, Coca-Cola, Ford, and Citibank are just a few of the household names that are aggressively expanding into and across Africa. College students in the U.S. and Europe now cite Africa as one of their top desired destinations for study-abroad programs. Heck, it’s even in the arts. Fela!, based on the life of the Nigerian pop musician, just finished a successful run on Broadway and is now headed to Washington D.C., while rap superstar Akon speaks proudly about his Senegalese ancestry.
This is not your father’s Africa, with either non-fiction tomes on politics and the historical implications of colonialism, nor the fictional world where a pale person finds the meaning of life among simple brown people in a dusty rural community. A memoir just published by Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina, “One Day I Will Write About This Place” (Graywolf, 2011) captures this spirit. The book made Oprah’s Recommended Reading List for Summer 2011, and was recently featured on her website as the book of the week.
In its review of the book, The New York Times writes, “Although written by an East African and set in East and Southern Africa, Wainaina’s book is not just for Afrophiles or lovers of post colonial 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.”
Wainaina is the very embodiment of the new lens on Africa. In 2005, he published a piece in Granta, the magazine of new writing called “How to Write About Africa.” The essay was a clever satirical piece that mocked the explicit and implicit, conscious and subconscious African clichés characterized in scores of works written about Africa by non-Africans. His dry wit instructed the reader in the following manner, as one example of “How to Write about Africa”:
“Among your characters you must always include The Starving African, who wanders the refugee camp nearly naked, and waits for the benevolence of the West. Her children have flies on their eyelids and pot bellies, and her breasts are flat and empty. She must look utterly helpless. She can have no past, no history; such diversions ruin the dramatic moment. Moans are good. She must never say anything about herself in the dialogue except to speak of her (unspeakable) suffering.”
Understanding Wainaina’s headset puts “One Day I Will Write About This Place” into perspective. His memoir tells the story of a complicated man, with struggles that are universal, yet exist within the context of a middle class family, a university education and a familiar upper middle class dilemma of pursuing a safe professional career versus following one’s passion within the arts. His passion, and solace, has been in reading and writing, and writing is what he does exceptionally well; so well that he won the Caines award, often referred to as the African Booker prize.
Africa.com highly recommends “One Day I Will Write About This Place.”