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Review: The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and HopeThe Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I went into this book wanting (and maybe even expecting) to love it. I didn’t. I liked it, but was disappointed overall– maybe more so because I saw glimpses of the book I was expecting to read.

From the Harper Collins web site:

William Kamkwamba was born in Malawi, a country where magic ruled and modern science was mystery. It was also a land withered by drought and hunger. But William had read about windmills, and he dreamed of building one that would bring to his small village a set of luxuries that only 2 percent of Malawians could enjoy: electricity and running water. His neighbors called him misala—crazy—but William refused to let go of his dreams. With a small pile of once-forgotten science textbooks; some scrap metal, tractor parts, and bicycle halves; and an armory of curiosity and determination, he embarked on a daring plan to forge an unlikely contraption and small miracle that would change the lives around him.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind starts with page after page of anecdotes and description of life in rural Africa, of the people, and of the author’s experiences growing up. It wasn’t until page 67 that I saw anything at all related to his eventual windmill building.

Most of these stories were interesting in and of themselves, and some of it was necessary to set the scene, but they weren’t what I was looking for in this book.

It wasn’t until two thirds of the way through that the story I was looking for and expecting really kicks in, and I really enjoyed the final third of the book.  I enjoyed the details of his windmill building, and of in particular how it was perceived by those around him.  I particularly enjoyed following his adventures after his windmill was discovered, and door were opened up to him.

I spent a lot of my reading time thinking about how the story could have been told differently to make it work better for me. I came up with a number of ideas (interweaving the early and later parts of the story, having the book be a series of inter-related short stories, not all of which had a technological theme, adding in a parallel story of one of the other people he met late in the book).

What it came down to was that the story I wanted wasn’t really enough to fill the book.

Except I’m not even sure that is true. In spite of the author’s narration, I only felt I had a superficial knowledge of him and how he thought.

One example is his school exams. He’s obviously a bright guy, and he talks about the time he spends studying for the exams that determine what school he will be allowed to attend. He anxiously awaits the results. They aren’t good, and he is assigned to a very low ranking school. I never found out why, and how he felt about this.

I think the book does a good job delivering stories of African life– of famine, of families, of school, and of superstition.  That’s just not the book I was expecting to read.

TLC Book ToursI read this book as part of a TLC Book Tours tour.   Thank you to Trish for allowing me to participate, and for providing my copy of the book.  If you want to read other views of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, check out the other tour stops– most of them loved this book.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2010 in books, reviews, tour

 

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