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Bookmarks Issue: 
44-Jan-Feb-2010
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Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

A-The Boy Who Harnessed the WindWilliam Kamkwamba, the "boy" of the title, is now a man attending college in South Africa. Bryan Mealer is the author of All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo (2008), about the ongoing war and strife in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Topic: Had William Kamkwamba been born in a prosperous Western country, he might have been put on the fast track to engineering school: from a young age, he dissected any mechanical device he could find, and he was taken aback when truck drivers couldn't explain how their engines worked. Instead, however, Kamkwamba portrays his rural childhood in Malawi as a contest between magic and science. In this story, science triumphs when Kamkwamba uses his talents to rescue his family from starvation. Cobbling together knowledge from old textbooks in English, he masters enough physics to build a windmill that provides electricity to the village and makes irrigation--and freedom from famine--finally possible.
William Morrow. 288 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780061730320

Christian Science Monitor 4 of 5 Stars
"Despite the highly charged events in Kamkwamba's life, the telling of his story is surprisingly levelheaded. ... In fact, a light humor darts in and out of the pages of this book, providing laughs where you wouldn't have imagined even smiling." Kate Vander Wiede

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[The] book is a page turner, fascinating in all aspects: how William builds the windmill, the humanity of his family and friends, the details of place, even the political commentary. ... This may well be the inspirational book of the season, a Rocket Boys with an eco-African twist." Sarah Willis

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a stunning narrative, a description of persistence and accomplishment told matter-of-factly. ... But this story exists against a larger background, and [it is] the capture of the whole cloth that makes it remarkable." Robin Vidimos

Critical Summary

Reviewers, not all of whom remained dry-eyed, found Kamkwamba's story incredibly inspiring. They praised the book's sincerity: unlike the authors of many of today's memoirs, Kamkwamba and his coauthor do not include many digressions or tirades, but tell the story in a straightforward way from beginning to end. One critic, though impressed overall, was somewhat skeptical of this simplicity and wished that the book had included more about Malawi's cultural and economic context. But this critique may be relevant only to those already familiar with the subject. All others found The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind an illuminating story of Africa's past and present, as well as its future possibilities.