Posted by: sean | July 2, 2009

Kenyans’ turn to read

our-turn-to-eat-final-copyIt’s often difficult for me to find books on Africa in the Middle East, so I was delighted when a good friend of mine brought be Michela Wrong’s latest book on Kenya, Our Turn to Eat. I haven’t read her book on Eritrea, but her book on Mobutu’s Zaire is excellent, so I’m really looking forward to her latest.

Apparently, up until now, the book, which links tribalism and corruption, has been extremely difficult to buy in Kenya, or at least in Nairobi. All that, it seems, is about to change a bit for the better:

This week a long-mulled distribution project goes into action in Kenya, a country which has seen more than its fair share of humanitarian operations. The items handed out this time will be neither mosquito-nets, condoms, nor oral rehydration salts. They are copies of my book, It’s Our Turn to Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower. The aim is to get them into the hands of Kenyans who have so far been unable to locate a much talked-about item.

Until recently I sincerely doubted the project – embracing local churches, media outlets, Kenyan branches of PEN and the Open Society Institute, and pulled together by the American development agency USAID – would ever see the light of day. I feared the very same forces that had originally prevented my book selling in Kenya would sabotage it. Then came a text message from Galeeb Kachra, the project’s 36-year-old originator. “Books safe”, it read. The first part of the consignment had cleared Kenyan customs and was securely in USAID’s hands.

Now, with the first of what will eventually be 5,100 copies being either distributed for free or at discount prices, I feel a combination of gratitude and wonder. Gratitude to those who decided to help an author reach her natural readers, wonder that this was ever necessary in the first place. Books, after all, are normally sold in bookshops, not distributed like a polio vaccine.


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