William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer - The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: A Memoir - William Kamkwamba, Bryan Mealer

Finally good news.

I can't begin to tell you what a joy to read this book was. Every adult and every kid should read it (except for those kids whose parents are not ok with them reading vivid descriptions of someone dying from gonorrhoea - but even those kids should probably rebel against their parents and read it anyway).

As any review will tell you 'The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind' is about a boy who did just that - he built a windmill from junk using some second-hand book about physics that was donated to his village library. He then became one of the TED speakers and basically put Malawi on the map.

Make no mistake, though. This book is definitely not a boring account of how one makes electricity from trash (although there are plenty of practical tips should you need them). It's a vivid memoir, written in a simple but compelling way.




It starts, like any good African narrative, with some ancestral tales and a little bit of magic. William's first years are lived in the fuzzy area between science and magic. His curiosity and ingenuity is obvious from the first chapters which describe the games he used to play with his friends and the little radio fixing business he set up with his cousin when they were just little boys.

It goes on to the painful part where William is forced to drop out from the secondary school after it barely started because his parents can't afford the fees. This chapter is followed by a harrowing account of the famine in Malawi in 2001. I don't think I will forget it any time soon. It starts out benignly enough - the family decides to skip breakfast and have only two meals a day. Pages later they can barely get up and all look like their own shadows. As I mentioned in my review of Mindless Eating I do have this very unreasonable fear of dying from hunger and this chapter affected me deeply. I still can't get over it. One day I will probably forget all the intricacies of building a windmill but that vision of whole villages dying of hunger will stay to haunt me forever.

(I remember reading this romantic novel 'The Bronze Horseman' which turned out to be almost entirely forgettable except for those chapters dealing with the famine during the siege of Leningrad. Even just thinking about this makes me hungry.)

Despite all odds, William survives and thrives. It's not only poverty he is up against, it's the children who still go to school who mock him for spending all his days at the scrapyard digging through trash and reading 'Using Physics'. Everyone thinks him a madman until he triumphs. Now, this is what I call heart-warming! Not some bullshit stories about cats.