Review by Charles Kahuki
Binyavanga has spoken…one day he will write about this play…but for today he will leave you with an incline of what he intends to write about this place when he does get down to write about it.
Reading the book, the memoir as it is called, is more of a historical journey down the memory lane of middle class life in President Moi’s era. As such Binyavanga is not writing about himself per se rather he is writing about a certain Binyavanga who could be a Mbaka or a Mubarak living in middle class Kenya in the 80s and thereby Binyavanga takes this person as a “specimen” which he then uses to peer into the social cultural trends of those times. At least, there is a feeling of comradeship with the story for the many readers of his generation, regardless of where they were brought up. It can thus be said that in another millennia, should anthropologists in the course of their digging come across Binyavanga’s book they will not need to dig any further to find out about the cultural norms of his times.
The writer is not writing about his first person, I, on the contrary he is observing himself as someone removed from himself thus it is not his “I” that is writing and so he hopes that his “I” shall write about this place one day…
In his more than casual glance at the places he has been he clearly brings out the continued and ever present disillusionment of his generation with what life had to offer. They were and still are a generation in transition born of more traditional colonial era missionary schooled parents and coming into collision with a more liberal American inspired culture as the dominant culture of our time. These contradictions are cleverly borne out and at the height of disillusionment he drops from his studies in South Africa as he can no longer conform to demands of society and to do so would be to totally deface his sense of being. But he continues to do what he loves best which is to read; a habit that has never left him since his early childhood days.
Eventually, after “coming back to his senses” on returning to Kenya he does weave his way through the disillusionment to make something of what he loves and here we are holding the child of his labors. Above all the book has a special message for the younger generation…we are living in desperate times and it is upon them to make out of life what they intend their life to be, otherwise their lives will be lost in a tunnel of insatiable dreams…
Book cover image courtesy of NairobiNow