William Kamkwamba was a young boy from a small village in Milawi, Africa. He built a windmill and brought “electric wind” to his village. This is his story.
I’m so, so sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a spoilsport on this book. I know everyone else seems to like it, but I’ll say upfront that I wasn’t impressed. While William’s story is impressive, this book is not, in my opinion. The writing was dry, making it hard to pay attention, and beyond that, most of the book has nothing at all to do with the windmill. This is the worst sort of memoir setup, random and scattered and unrelated to the reason the book was written in the first place. (Or perhaps I’m just growing less fond of memoirs in the recent past – I have noticed that trend in my reading.)
See, William’s story is an amazing one. He didn’t have a lot of education but he learned how electricity worked from books in the library. He managed to build a small windmill from supplies he could gather up in his village. If you look at the picture, you’ll see all sorts of stuff thrown together to make the windmill work, and that’s just awesome! What the boy did was great. I’m not denying that at all. He was fantastic!
But I’m not here to evaluate the events. I’m here to evaluate the book, and this book…well, the first 200 pages had nothing to do with the windmill at all. Instead, it talks about William’s culture, the magic and religion, the trading, the school, the work, etc, and then it talks about the hardships of his life, famine and disease and his sister leaving etc. While those things might have been interesting, they really had nothing to do with what the book advertised. The text was dry and dull and I couldn’t connect with the narrative style, probably because it was written in conjunction with someone else because of the language barrier. I just couldn’t keep my mind from wandering as I read.
Then, once I finally got the part about the windmill, most of it had to do first with the science elements (boring for me as a non-science person) and then with the aftermath of building the windmill, where William travels the world and tells people about his work. This was the problem for me: William’s story, while amazing, really didn’t merit 350 pages of telling. It would be a good article or essay, not a good book. It was so stretched and thin that I found myself skimming large parts without missing anything. I learned absolutely nothing from the book that I didn’t get from the publisher’s description, not because they spoiled it, but because there really isn’t all that much to tell!
So in short, the book really disappointed me. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this. On the other hand, I’ve never seen anyone else dislike it. Most people rave about it. Perhaps if I could have connected with the narrative voice, I would have raved about it too. Like I said, I really do think what William accomplished was magnificent.