BookBrowse Reviews The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Creating Currents of Electricity and Hope

by William Kamkwamba

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba X
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Oct 2009, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2010, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Jo Perry
Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


A remarkable true story about human inventiveness and its power to overcome crippling adversity

William Kamkwamba's story is important, sad and beautiful. In the village in Malawi where he was born, people lived much as they had lived for generations, hunting and farming in the intersection of the daylight world and a dark netherworld of juju:

"...Men with bald heads, twenty feet tall, are said to appear on the roads... Ghost trucks drive the same roads at night, coming on fast with their bright lights flashing and engines revving loud... Magic hyenas wander the villages at night, snatching... goats... in their razor jaws and delivering them to the doorsteps of wizards. Magic lions are sent to kill delinquent debtors, and snakes the size of tractors can lie in wait for you in your fields."

Yet, American readers can recognize their own childhoods in Kamkwamba's when he recalls enjoying watching "Rambo" and "Terminator" at the local theater, a hut with a VCR. He and his friends race homemade go-carts, play war, or listen to their parents' and grandparents stories. Although very poor and often hungry, Kamkwamba and his friend Geoffrey have fun, are ambitious students, and enjoy tinkering with and repairing radios.

Then the famine of 2002 alters everything for Kamkwamba and populates the daylight world with living ghosts:

"[Famine] fell upon us like the great plagues of Egypt I'd read about, swiftly and without rest. As if overnight, people's bodies began changing into horrible shapes. They were now scattered across the land by the thousands, scavenging the soil like animals. Far from home and away from their families, they began to die."

Kamkwamba's intellectual hunger is as powerful as the agonizing emptiness he suffers in his belly. His father can no longer pay his school fees, so when when he isn't needed in the fields, he begins a program of rigorous self-education in science and English by studying three textbooks he discovers languishing in a small library of books donated by the American government to a teacher training school:

"Even if the words sometimes confused me, the concepts that were illustrated in the drawings were clear and real in my mind. The various symbols - those for positive and negative, dry cells and switches in a circuit, and arrows indicating direction of current - made perfect sense and needed no explanation... It was as if my brain had long ago made a place for these symbols, and once I discovered them in these books, they snapped right into place."

The picture of a windmill on the cover of Using Energy inspires him to build a windmill that will generate electricity for his home and someday power a water pump as well. His account of being a hungry 14-year-old scrounging, repurposing, inventing, and improvising the parts of his machine are wonderful. And the soul-deep satisfaction he feels - working, solving problems, and always discovering something new - is as life-sustaining as his first taste of real food after months of starvation:

"I pulled the cob off the fire, so hot it scalded my fingers. I then peeled back the steaming husks and began to eat. The kernels were meaty and warm and filled with the essence of God. I chewed slowly and with great satisfaction, knowing I'd waited for so very long. Each time I swallowed was like returning something that was lost, some missing part of my being."

Despite the degradation of his and his people's suffering, (and one particularly brutal and distasteful episode of animal cruelty) William Kamkwamba's story reminds us - especially those of us in the West whose intellectual and physical appetites have been deadened by plenty - that being human is a constant striving for the possible and the wonderful.

Reviewed by Jo Perry

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in November 2009, and has been updated for the September 2010 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    by Marie Benedict
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, notable author of previous historical fiction such ...
  • Book Jacket: To Be a Man
    To Be a Man
    by Nicole Krauss
    While, as its title hints, To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss is concerned with masculinity, it renders a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Office of Historical Corrections
    The Office of Historical Corrections
    by Danielle Evans
    In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Dutch House
    by Ann Patchett

    The Dutch House is my introduction to Ann Patchett, which, after reading it, surprises me. I had ...


Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    At the Edge of the Haight
    by Katherine Seligman

    Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    The Prophets
    by Robert Jones Jr.

    A stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Moment of Lift
by Melinda Gates
How can we summon a moment of lift for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.
Who Said...

People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T M T C, T M T Stay T S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.