The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (J Biography)

The Boy Who Harnassed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind 

William Kamkwamba (Juvenile Biography)

The machine was ready.  After so many months of preparation, the work was finally complete: The motor and blades were bolted and secured, the chain was taut and heavy with grease, and the tower stood steady on its legs.  The muscles in my back and arms had grown as hard as green fruit from all the pulling and lifting.  And although I’d barely slept the night before, I’d never felt so awake.  My invention was complete.  It appeared exactly as I’d seen it in my dreams.

William Kamkwamba lives in Malawi, a tiny nation in southeastern Africa that is often called “The Warm Heart of Africa.”  He is the only son of Trywell and Agnes Kamkwamba and brother to six sisters.  His family are farmers—like most of the families in the village of Masitala—and grow maize.  It is a hard life, but one filled with love, family, and friends.  But William is naturally curious and innovative and he begins to build things in his spare time.  When famine strikes his village and he is forced to drop out of school for lack of money, he begins to visit the local library where he discovers an amazing thing that would forever change his world and the people around him.  William discovers science.

The story of William Kamkwamba’s determination to bring electricity to his village is a lesson in perseverance, resourcefulness, and faith.  Whether you call it moxie, pluck, spirit, or spunk, William has it and he truly epitomizes the saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”  Poverty, hunger, and futility are no match for a young boy with a dream of making electricity.  For William knew what building a windmill would mean for himself and his family: “With a windmill, we’d finally release ourselves from the troubles of darkness and hunger.  A windmill meant more than just power.  It was freedom.”

After reading William Kamkwamba’s amazing and inspiring story, two things in particular stuck out.  The first was that after attending and graduating college in the United States and completing an internship with a San Francisco design firm, William chose to return home.  He could have easily found a job and made a respectable amount of money in Silicon Valley or New York, but William followed his heart back to Africa and began using his knowledge and experience to make his community a better place.  Second, even from a young age, William Kamkwamba realized that he was just a small piece in a rather large puzzle.  He knew that we, as humans, were connected and he found comfort and security in that connectedness: “Even though we lived in a small village in Africa, we did many of the same things kids do all over the world; we just used different materials.  After talking with friends I met in America, I know this is true.  Children everywhere have similar ways of playing with one another.  And if you look at it this way, the world isn’t such a big place.”  No, it’s really not such a big place at all, William and thanks to you, it got just a little bit closer.

Rating: 5/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com

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The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu

the beautiful things that heaven bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

Dinaw Mengestu (Adult Fiction)

Seventeen years ago, Sepha Stephanos fled his home and the revolution in Ethiopia for the United States.  He shares an apartment with his uncle, attends college, and pursues the American dream.  Years later, Sepha owns and operates a grocery store in a poor and crime-ridden part of Washington, D.C.  As dilapidated buildings are bought and renovated and later occupied by affluent professionals, the neighborhood begins to experience a rebirth while Sepha experiences his own sense of awakening when he befriends his white neighbor Judith and her biracial daughter.  But as racial tensions rise within the neighborhood, Sepha soon finds that family and stability are once again threatened by forces beyond his control.

Mengestu is a talented writer whose words dance across the page and read like a finely-crafted poem.  When describing Judith’s house, he writes, “Its elaborately tiled roof, flaking like dried skin, was echoed in the shutters that still clung out of stubbornness to the delicately molded windows arched like a pair of cartoon eyes on both sides of the house.”  Unfortunately, the beauty of Mengestu’s prose isn’t enough to overcome an unsympathetic protagonist, as well as a tedious storyline that offers a wonderful description of the streets, sights, and sounds of the District of Columbia, but little else.  Had this novel been a memoir, I would understand and almost excuse the depressing and despondent nature of this book.  But since this is a work of fiction, it’s not clear why Mengestu made Sepha so unlikeable and unrelatable.  For example, Sepha has been in America for 17 years, but has managed to make only two friends (both fellow African immigrants).  Also, this same individual—who can wax Dante, Dickinson, and Dostoevsky with the best of them—is at an utter loss as to why his business is doing so poorly when he keeps inconsistent store hours (he opens the store when the mood strikes him) and stocks expired food on dusty shelves that sit atop dirty floors.

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears began like Sepha’s expectations when he came to America: full of hope and promise.  But as Sepha once said to his friend Kenneth, “Once you walk out on your life, it’s difficult to come back to it.”  That was almost the feeling I had with this book.  The constant self-pitying and overabundance of defeatism that can be found on just about every page made it difficult to come back to this book and to Sepha…and he deserves much better than that.

Rating: 3/5

*Book cover image attributed to www.textbookstar.com