11 August 2009

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind; William Kamkqamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope by William Kamkwamba

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm not sure if this is a real memoir, it's more a "here's what I did and how I did it... oh, yeah, and here's some about my life, too" type book. Kamkwamba's ability to bring to life for us what it was like to grow up in Malawi is remarkable. His voice - which never really seems to age - is that of a wide-eyed, excitable boy who just has this ability to figure stuff out.

When I read the book, at times I heard my father's voice talking about some scientist or other "figuring stuff out". I think he'll like this book, because (to him) it's about taking a little bit of knowledge and by trial and error making something that works. Others will read this and be inspired by the same story, perhaps less enthralled with the scientific aspects.

The biggest problem I had was, as I mentioned before, the voice doesn't age. While it was clear that time was passing (we start when he's young and progress to what I'm guessing is early manhood, although that's not totally clear), there was no sense that his aspirations, his worldview or his inner life aged. Now, that might be in part due to his life's circumstances (surviving the famine, for example) or it might be due to the way in which his coauthor helped him shape the story. In it, he sounds eternally in his late teens. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it did occasionally niggle at me.

My guess is that people will read this and be inspired. Inspired to do what is the question - will they help more Williams? find ways to help the countries in which these Williams live? go off and be inventors themselves? It will be interesting to see what happens as this book (and William's story) reaches a wider audience.

(Free ARC provided by publisher)

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