Review of The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
This is the second memoir I've read from someone dealing with the hardships of growing up in Africa. The first one was A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. Ishmael grew up in the war-torn Congo area and became a boy soldier. William Kamkwamba's struggle deals with poverty. Both stories are inspirational and worthy of the praise each book has received.
The pitch for this book had to have been a hard sale. Here's how it might have played out. Agent: It's about this boy who builds a windmill out of spare parts. He uses the power generated by the windmill to light a light bulb so he can stay up after dark. Editor: Okay, that's it? What about guns? Anything about guns or machetes? I really liked that boy soldier book. Agent: No. This isn't like that. It's about overcoming obstacles to achieve something great. Editor: I don't see a market for a book like that. I think I'll pass.
Last time I checked, The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is a best seller. Sometimes a simple story told in simple language carries the most weight. This book describes what life is like growing up in an African village where life is still dependent on that season's crops. Where there is no electricity and education is only available to a privileged few.
I've read stories where hunger and starvation played a significant role in the narrative. But these stories were from authors who hadn't actually suffered through starvation. Reading William's account of how he and his family were forced to deal with famine gets you as close as you can get to what it must be like without experiencing it yourself.
Most inventions arise through necessity. Someone sees a need and develops a solution. Such is the case with William. He is a young man eager to learn, and because his father doesn't have the money to pay for his schooling, he is a young man with a lot of time on his hands. Rather than waste away on a street corner doing drugs, William puts his curious mind to work. He has an interest in science and mechanics. He borrows books from the library to keep his mind occupied. This is where he first sees a picture of a wind turbine, and this piques his interest. If he were to build such a turbine, maybe his family could have electricity. Maybe he could convert that energy to help irrigate his father's fields. But William has no money or tools. How he accomplishes the impossible is both compelling and inspirational.
As with Ishmael's book, this story shows that anyone can succeed if given the right opportunity. William is just as capable as the privileged kid whose parents send them to Harvard. Education and opportunity are the key. This story also shows how technology can help third world countries leapfrog into the present. They don't have to go through an industrial period. They can and should get their power from alternative sources such as wind and solar.
While the book is written in William's voice, the influence of William's co-author, Bryan Mealer, is evident on every page. What may seem simple on the surface required a lot of craft behind the scenes.
This will be the last book I will review this year, and I am glad to give it my highest rating. It is also the first book that I have read on my new Kindle. I can say without reservation that I am now a fan of the ebook.
William has come a long way from his days living in his small village. He is now fully acclimated to the modern world and has his own blog. He uses the same blogging site as me. So get the book and then check out Williams' blog at williamkamkwamba.typepad.com. Bryan's blog is at www.bryanmealer.com.