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Speak Swahili, Dammit!
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on 26 June 2017
Not often am I so miserable when I finish a book, but this was one such book...

Beautifully written, this is the unusual story of white boy growing up in a remote mining settlement in rural Tanganyika (Tanzania since 1964) in the 1950s and early 60s. Ill fortune struck the family at an early stage and Jimu is reared as much by his kindly Swahili-speaking servants as he is by his family.

Few can boast such an insight into the ways and minds of both Africans and Mazungu (whites) in the 1950s; a time very different from now. White society was still 'polite' society, not so far removed from the prudish Edwardians. On the other hand Swahili-speaking African culture was much more honest, expressive and open in their description of people their physical attributes and bodily functions. A very small minority of reviewers have missed the point and rated this down for that reason. Taken as what was intended; a description of a childhood and early teens growing up among and at times even trying to bridge the gap between two groups of interdependent people, separated by colour and culture, it forms a wonderfully entertaining book and an historically valuable document.

Leaving aside the serious elements, this book describes beautifully the trials and pleasures in growing up in a remote location in rural East Africa with no TV, news and only Radio Congo. Lions, Fisi (hyenas) and snakes are daily hazards and the small group of children entertained themselves with games, books, comics and a wide range of other amusements and pranks shared with some of the native children. Then came the serious business of travel, boarding school and how best to avoid it.

This is genuinely a very fine book with some very emotional moments that was very hard to put down. If you like travel and honest biography, you will probably enjoy this book too.

Now I have finished it, I'm waiting anxiously for James Penhaligon to complete the sequel.
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on 8 September 2015
Hadn't read the description properly and thought I was buying a travelogue what I ended up with was a book about the author growing up in East Africa.

Quite possibly one of the best misrtakes I have made!

A really wonderful read which draws you right in. James, Jimu, Penhaligon weaves a truly stunning recollection of his child hood which is not only fun to read & sad to read but also informative in many aspects.

Initially you see a small child rebelling and as you read more you begin to see why he is rebelling and how that "rebellion" gives rise to forming a clearly visible deep seated love and respect for the Africans he grew up with and their culture.

An interesting ,heartwarming & uplifting read where you just don't want to put the book down

It is rare for me to laugh out loud when reading but the turkey had me in stitches.

It was such a shame to read the last page and the book has left, considering it was a mistake purchase, a lasting impression.
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on 7 September 2016
I found that I was able to relate to so much in this autobiographical account of Jimu's childhood. Being about five years younger than the author and having learned more outside of the classroom than inside and having traveled and run away a lot during my formative years, the chords were striking and the bells were ringing all the way through.

The description of the book gives you a very good idea of what goes on in Jimu's life, but you have to read it to make the full discovery. I guarantee that you wil laugh a lot, and you will probably empathise with his antics. Furthermore, you can learn a smattering of Swahili. There are many basic phrases which are then repeated in English without interrupting the flow of the narrative. I admire that writing technique.

All in all, a lovely book and well worth picking up.
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on 12 September 2015
One of the best books I have ever read!, I rarely give a five, I lived it, I loved it, I hated it for taking me through the anger of helplessness that begets inner mind-games that ultimately create religion if others buy in to it, There is a (Anthony Burgess like) savouring of words and language that took me to uncomfortable places of the conscious and subconscious. I heartily forgave it though for taking me on a vivid journey of discovery that had I not been constantly enthralled by the multiplicity of supporting characters, might have been a little bit tiresome. Where is the sequel???
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on 27 November 2014
I could not put this book down and am 'desperately' waiting for the promised second book.
In the beginning I felt that the book could have done with more editing. There are stretches that I found much too detailed and long, like descriptions of a boat etc. I could not bear it and left them out. It must be heaven for an engineer-minded person who also loves D.I.Y., because there are also long passages about building a gun and a dinghi, and if you are into wars, you are in paradise, because everyone's complete war story is told, and there are many characters, many war stories. I had to move on, leave them out.
I also was disturbed by the constant use of present tense, also in flash-backs etc. I found this very annoying at first but got used to it.
BUT: I give this book 5 stars without any hesitation. It is so well-written, tongue-in-cheek, informing, interesting, surprising, heart-warming, shocking. I feel the author took me along, I was there. I spent many insomniac nights, just because I could not stop reading.
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on 18 January 2015
In the 1950's Jame's family move to Geita in Tanganyika where his father has a job as manager of the mine there.
James has an exciting childhood being raised among the natives where his parents find that Jame's main language has become Swahilli and speaks very little English.
This ideal lifestyle tragically sees the death of his father whilst James is still only 5yrs old, he becomes very hard to control, spends all his spare time amongst the people he loves, the native people and makes some very close friends.
At 7yrs old his mother decides to send him to boarding school hoping it might help with his English and bad behavior.
He hated boarding school, he was homesick and missed the native people who were his friends, he found it very hard to mix with the other white children, the book continues through Jame's school days and his longing to be back among the people he loved, often funny, very good book, worth a read.
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on 3 June 2012
It seems slightly pointless adding another 5-star rating to an already highly-rated book, but I felt I wanted to register my own appreciation for the book. I picked it up on spec when it was temporarily free, not expecting much, and slightly sceptical of the glowing reviews.
I must say though that I utterly loved the book. I have no particular experience of Africa, and little appreciation or understanding of its culture and politics, but James Penhaligon paints such a vivid picture that it is impossible not to feel as though you know everyone personally. Even with a modest amount of artistic licence, the escapades are utterly believable, no matter how outrageous they may seem,and the consequences are keenly felt. The struggles and the joys of life are so well described that it is as though one was an eye-witness rather than a detached reader.
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on 17 September 2017
So evocative of Africa. Well observed and related. For anybody who has lived in Africa I would recommend reading this book. Africa never leaves you, which is wonderful but also bittersweet. I knew what the author had experienced. The book has preserved a particular period of history. I felt the same atmosphere that I had also experienced in Doris Lessing's work, 'The Grass is Singing'. I would like to read another work from this author.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 22 August 2012
Speak Swahili Dammit! - James Penhaligon

"It's 1966. I'm fifteen and a half years old and in just a few minutes we're leaving Geita forever."

So ...... you know from the beginning that Jimu is going to be leaving the place that has been his anchor, his home, his world virtually since birth. It's where he learnt to speak Swahili before English. It's the place where he and his motley collection of friends manage to make a very boring mine town into a very exciting place to learn about nature (especially playing nurses & doctors!). The town is still in wildest Africa and so there are escapades with hyenas, lions, leopards and mambas.

I could go on & on about Jimu and his determination to escape from boarding school, his love for Gretchen & his friend Lutoli, but if I did, then maybe you wouldn't read the book and believe me, you do want to read this book!

There are some books that come into our lives that are so special, so rewarding that they leave an indelible mark on our lives. This is one of those books. I desperately want to read what happened to Jimu and his family after they left Geita and hope that the author will not be too long in writing the next chapter
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on 14 January 2012
Jimu's descriptions of his childhood at a remote gold mine in the middle of the bush in Tanganyika are both tragic and comic.

Death comes in many forms, and affects him deeply. Yet it doesn't crush his joie de vivre, and he's always up to mischief, whether it's spouting Swahili obscenities to uncomprehending Europeans charmed by his angelic appearance, or his ingenious attempts to uncover the mystery of the female body.

While his widowed mother works to support her family Jimu spends much of his time with the African house servants and their children, and he relates far more to them than to the mzungus - white people.

There are no horribly graphic accounts in this story - something that always ruins a book for me.

Having lived in Kenya for 20 years, I particularly enjoy books about East Africa, and have read all of Elspeth Huxley, Karen Blixen, Robert Ruark and many others. But none have I enjoyed as much as this enchanting tale of a little white boy in love with Africa. Set in the period between the end of WWII and the coming of Independence, it was probably for many settlers the golden age of life in East Africa, and brought back to me the sights, the sounds, and the charm of the African people with their gentle humour and love of children.

You can tell from the writing that the author's heart still belongs to Africa, and anybody who has lived there for any length of time will know that once Africa gets into your heart, you can never completely get it out.

A beautiful read, skilfully written.

Mzuri sana, Jimu.
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