His memoir

Binyavanga Wainana’s memoir ‘One Day I Shall Write About This Place’ was published by Kwani Trust in 2012.  Binyavanga is the founder of Kwani, a local literary community which mentors and publishes young African writers. Before this memoir, Binyavanga published several books and essays, the most notable being the widely-acclaimed ‘How to write about Africa’.

I pinched the memoir from my pal’s home library. When I asked him what he thought of the book, he twisted his face, bobbed his head and said ‘So so’.

I started to read this ‘so so’ book as soon as I got the chance to. Sunday night, before we went to the polls, I curled up in my reading chair and started to read. I continued to read as we queued to cast our vote the following Monday, on March 4. I read it all week as we listened to Charles Kanjama (God bless this dear) and Dr. Oloo analyze every statistic, every utterance and every body movement made during the election period. I read as we watched the IEBC mechanisms systematically break down. I read as the two horses in the race maintained the steady gap between them.

I liked the rustic images Binyavanga created in the first of the part book – an African child growing up in post-colonial Kenya.  Simple story telling that builds up on layer upon layer of the world as seen through the eyes of a boy growing up in a close-knit family. His writing was easy and the imagery arresting; mild humor from his warped view of the world peppered the story. What he was unable to voice, he expressed in words. I caught myself smiling often.

Despite the simplicity of the story telling, the book called for plenty of patience because it was difficult to get the read into a steady motion. One short sentence followed another after another. There was a stammer in the prose because of these short sentences. I was in constant whiplash, like riding with a driver who kept engaging his manual transmission moti in the wrong gear. Besides this, there were instances where Binyavanga rambled on with his juvenile musings causing a digression.

The urge to put the book away came to me on several such occasions. It did. But I had an inkling there was something great simmering in the background.

And there was.

I found it in the chapter before he left to pursue his undergraduate degree in Transkei, South Africa. Binyavanga was in a bar with a pal, when he met this woman whom he did not immediately recognize as his childhood house-help because she was dolled up in a wig and wore heavy make- up. Add to that, she was drunk. When he finally realized this woman was not a stranger but Wambui, the hauzi, he says this of her:

 ‘So easy to believe in the person she wanted to be, so impossible for me to accept that person has come to be….I am so angry at her fake attempt to be what she is not. That she fooled me. I want to put a hoe in her hands and tell her to go home to Subukia and grow potatoes.’

It was then I believed there grandeur in this book. Right then, it stopped being a doodle and started to become a mural.

Binyavanga goes to SA. The phase in Transkei is yet again spent with his quizzing imagination. The imagery remains intense, and the writing is more matured than the first part of the book. He used longer sentences. He also used creative devices to illuminate everything he encountered (though to a nauseating degree). The read became engaging and empathetic: I now held an entirely different book in my hands.
I saw him struggle through an identity crisis; holding on to anchors which were not weighty enough to keep him grounded.  I pictured him as a riff raff, stone high and seeking solace in fleeting unfulfilling company. Too many characters are introduced in his time in Transkei; these characters added an appreciated depth to the story but most of them fizzled out thereafter.

Because of all the lost ambition and youthful indiscipline, Binyavanga returns to Kenya having not completed his undergraduate degree. The young man is lost. Binyavanga makes a visit to Uganda to meet his extended family and learn of his origins. He finds some bearing from this visit. The book’s tempo increases with each turn of the page; I was enthralled.

Refreshed and focused (literally and figuratively speaking), Binyavanga returns to SA to complete his degree. He is not able to achieve this because he realizes now he is not passionate about this degree in accounting (who ever is?). He moves to Cape Town, takes up some odd jobs and starts his writing career. Binyavanga is forced to return home following the death of his mom, who succumbs to diabetes.

After the funeral, he decides to stay in Nairobi to establish himself as a writer. In this part of the book, we journey with Binyavanga through the struggles of getting his writing career off the ground, the founding of his brainchild Kwani? and his joy of winning the Caine Prize for African writing. He says this about his craft:

It often feels like an unbearable privilege – to write. I make a living from simply taking all those wonderful and horrible patterns in my past and making them new and strong….Sometimes I want to stop writing because I can’t bear the idea that it may one day go away. Sometimes I feel I would rather stop, before it owns me completely. But I can’t stop.

Such powerful words; I re-read that paragraph often. Also, he reflects on his identity as a Kikuyu man in political Kenya.

The momentum of the book starts to slow down again and then without warning, the book takes another dip: Binyavanga delves into paragraph after paragraph of disparate ideas. He tosses me around without apology. Again, the urge to put the book away finds me. I struggle to keep up with Binyavanga in these crucial final phases of the memoir but I am left behind each time I catch up.

Towards the end of the book, Binyavanga reveals he is diabetic; a revelation that is only four words long. I wanted him to say more about his condition, about his fears and about the impact it had on his routines and habits. But, he did not. This would have been an excellent way for his readers to connect with him emotionally.
Then, there is an inclusion of the 2007/2008 post-poll chaos that did little to advance the storyline of the book.

The final chapter of the book is a reminder of where he sought his solace his entire life: the written word. He muses:

There are television and radio people. There are people in books. People in books do not have an actual voice for your ears. You cannot see them. You, the reader, work with a good author to make the move around your head, toss their hair, hate and love, and need things urgently.

The book ends on an affectionate note here.


Binyavanga did not aimlessly create the voices which narrated the autobiography. From childhood, where he stammered. To early adulthood where he was bolder, and sought to find his identity and footing; where he matured as a writer. To later adulthood where toned the voice down; where he appreciated he was in a position to influence with the foothold he had established in the literary circles both locally and abroad.

I believe the voice he creates in each part of the book is a direct reflection of the person he was at the time.

I am left to question one thing though: what is Binyavanga left with after the book? He does not keep in touch with any of the people he met in South Africa; I dare not call them his friends. There is no mention of a special woman, or love, or wild oats in the book. His siblings have gone on to become mothers and fathers, and his parents are no longer with us. After all is said and done, what keeps Binyavanga warm at night?

I sought commentary from Binyavanga but by the time this was going to press (I have always wanted to say that), I had not received a response.


I disagree with my pal when he says it is ‘So so’: this book is a masterpiece in its own right.

An hour’s conversation
The Art of Soliloquy

Comments (5)

  1. jnganga22

    I like what I am seeing in you Fc Bett. Your writing seems to mature daily getting a new sense of enthusiasm and spontainety. I really envy you.

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Florence Bett-Kinyatti


Columnist Saturday Nation Writer Craft It Author of best-selling ‘SHOULD I?’ and ‘HOW MUCH?’ ~ Guiding word: Overdrive Subscribe to our Newsletter👇🏾 eepurl.com/igmN8P
  • Dear God, 
It’s me again.

I don’t pray as often as I need to, You know that. I don’t kneel by my bed in child-like humility, as Muna does. I don’t whisper a prayer in the morning. Or at noon. Perhaps just in the evening. 

This going-to-church habit is a constant false start. So is reading the Word. 

I’m often guilty but I also know: You and I have a language only we can understand. 

I speak to You through this gift You bestowed upon my Kale shoulders, this gift to write in colour. It’s a gift that sometimes feels like a curse, a burden I have no choice but to pursue. 

Yet other times – most times, actually – it’s the very breath of my essence. Everyday I sit to write, when the words flow from my head and heart through my fingers to the page, I feel You next to me. 

You are here, Lord. Hovering. Lingering. Swooshing about in Your regal robes, like a character from Bridgerton.

Sometimes You get so close I can feel You breathing on my neck and I’m like, ‘Err, God, do You mind, personal space?’

And You chuckle uncomfortably. ‘He-he, of course. Of course.’

I’m here to tell You, Thanks!

I hosted my first in-person event last March, Lord, thank You to all the lovely ladies who granted me their time and full attention. 

I’ve carried them in my heart since and every day, my prayer is that You bring them closer to the life of abundance they each seek. To their own version of wealth. 

I always call them by their name: Becky. Purity. Lindsay. Wangui. Naomi. Shiqow. Mercy. Liz. Winnie. Polly. Nduta. Lynet. 

And Mike. 

Dear Lord, I’m prepping for my next in-person event in June, Inshallah. 

Walk with me as I get there. 

Love always,

  • Highlights from our first-ever in person event hosted by Craft It and @financialfitbit 
Thanks to all the lovely ladies — and gent, hehe — who honoured us with the privilege of their time and attention. And colourful energy. It’s been weeks since and it’s only now that I’m coming down from the high. 

Thank YOU!

🎥 @mikemuthaka 

#craftit #author #MakeYourMoneyMatter #personalfinance #money
  • I am a woman.

I’m strong. I’m brilliant. I’m like a comet shooting across the sky, I’m so bright you have to put on shades to see me.

I’m almost 40, I’m almost fully realising myself as a woman and the power of womanhood I possess.

I’m so powerful that if KPLC connected me to the national grid, I’d power up this country and we’d never have another blackout.

Ho! Ho! Ho!


To recognize and celebrate International Women’s Day today, I’d like to recognize and celebrate eight women.

I have eight things to give away to each of these women:
a) Two tickets to my upcoming event on March 18 with @financialfitbit Theme is ‘Make your money matter’
b) Three autographed copies of my book ‘Should I?’
c) Three autographed copies of my other book ‘How Much?’

To participate:
1. Like this post
2. Tag women who deserve a win of either event ticket or book (tag as many women as you like)
3. Tell us what you’d like her to win and why she deserves the win
4. Make sure your tagged women follow @_craftit and @financialfitbit 

Here are the rules for the giveaway:
— One woman, one win
— Winners will be contacted via DM
— Giveaway closes at the end of this week, Inshallah, on Sunday 12 March
— Only open to people living in Kenya

All the best!

(Swipe right to see the women I’m celebrating.)

#craftit #internationalwomensday
  • My 2022 word of the year was Wholesome. 

Wholesome meant engaging in moderation and in pursuits that didn’t leave me feeling yucky.

An example: there’re weekend nights I’d go out then have too much to drink. On the drive home, I’d tell GB to stop the car every half mile so I could throw up on the side of the road. Then I’d take three working days recovering. 


No more of that nonsense.

Now I have only two doubles of Singleton whiskey and chase it with water. I eat less food and I eat better. I take my supplements. I treat myself to an early bedtime and arise with my body clock, no alarm.

I spend a lot more time hanging with my kids, Muna and Njeeh. 

I buy fewer things. 

I play the piano. 

I created a disciplined routine for my work and take Thursdays off. 

You catch my drift…

Wholesome has become my lifestyle. 

(By the way, I was asked, ‘Where does this word-of-the-year come from, Bett?’ I don’t know about other people but for me, the words present themselves when I’m journaling. My spirit tells me what it needs; I must be still enough to listen and brave enough to obey.)

My word for 2023 is Overdrive.

My two books have unlocked new opportunities for me as a writer and creative. As an urban brand. I’d honestly not foreseen them. 

I know that if I adjust my sails to where the wind is blowing, these opportunities will translate to wealth.

Last Friday, I listed all the work I’m already doing and all the new opportunities – potential and realised – knocking at my door.

I asked myself, ‘What am I taking up here and what am I dropping?’

The response, ‘None – we go into overdrive and smartly pursue them all.’

#craftit #urbanguide
  • Years ago, my best friend said to me, ‘Bett, we’re almost 40 – forget makeup, let’s take care of our skin instead.’

I had to laugh because this was coming from Terry. Terry my Kisii pal, this fine gyal with skin the colour of honey, the only practising SDA in my circle. 

Terry had spent her 20s and early 30s sleek with Arimis. That’s right, the milking jelly with a lactating cow on its logo. 

Arimis addressed all her skin pickles back then. It was her problem fixer. Her Olivia Pope. It’s the one thing that always said, It’s handled.

Now here she was preaching to us about a consistent skincare regimen in the AM and PM.


It wasn’t until Terry shared her selfies on our girls WhatsApp group that I stopped laughing. It wasn’t until we stood next her – and took these selfies – that I reeally stopped laughing: Terry’s skin was youthful and toned, plump. Hydrated. Moistured but not shiny. 

It looked like it had been kissed by the Greek goddess of radiance. 

So we gathered around her feet and said, ‘Forgive us, master. We are ready now. Teach us everything you know.’

She did. 

Terry and I now spend plenty of time before work and before bed squeezing out little portions of expensive skincare products from expensive tubes, we layer them on our face in a calculated measure.

This serum here is for the circles under my eyes and the fine lines around my mouth.

Turns out I’ve been giving away too much of my face: I’ve been looking too hard, laughing too easily.

I’ll have to spend the next year into my 40s with my eyes half shut and laughing little. I'll have a resting bitch face.

Don’t blame me, blame the retinol.

And age.

#craftit #urbanguide #urbangirl
  • I’m Bett. I’m the author of your favourite books about money. I’m hosting an in-person event in March, Inshallah: This is my personal invite to you.

#craftit #moneymaker #moneyinkenya
  • I am hosting my first money event this March, Inhsallah. It’s the first of quarterly events I have planned for the year. 

(Give me a moment here so I pull myself together long enough to write this. I’m smiling very hard right now, ha-ha, I look like a donkey.)


The event will be in-person. On a Saturday morning, a loose three hours which, I am certain, you’d have burned on some other pursuit you couldn’t account for later. (I’d probably be oiling the hinges of a squeaky door or decluttering my sock drawer.)

My guest host for this edition is Lynet Kyalo. 

Lynet is a personal finance coach under her brand @financialfitbit She also hosts @getyourbagrightpodcast 

Buy your tickets from our Market.

Early bird tickets are discounted until the end of this month.

Limited slots available. 

#craftit #millenialmoney #moneyevent #moneymaker
  • Sometimes I sit down and read my own book. 

Odd, huh?

Reading my own stories is like an out-of-body experience. Or getting introduced to myself again. An outward journey inward.

It’s fascinating.

I also read because I need to improve my writing for my next project.

We call them the Elements of Craft: things like sentence structure and punctuation, word placement, story length etc, they all inform your reading experience.

This is what makes the book easy to read, and has you turning the pages.

Cop your autographed copy and #betteryourmoney 

#craftit #howmuch #millenialmoney #moneymaker

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