iBook Review: Speak Swahili, Dammit!, by James Penhaligon Reviewed by Guy Dayen
Speak Swahili, Dammit! is an autobiographical novel by James Penhaligon, a consultant psychiatrist presently living in the United Kingdom. It tells the tale of the author's birth and youth in Tanganyika, the region of Africa that would later become Tanzania.
The narrator of the book is the teenage James, and the bulk of the book is spent detailing the life he and his family lead deep in the bush, on a remote gold mine situated close to Lake Victoria (This is the lake which featured so prominently in the film The African Queen, staring Bogart and Hepburn.). James grows up feeling out of touch with the westerners that surround his family, and feels much closer to the elder natives who contribute so much to his education and upbringing.
The book is quite a long one, and comes in at just under six hundred pages, but it never drags. Penhaligon goes into quite a bit of detail about life at the gold mine and at the boarding school he attends. His insights are interesting, as he comments on many things from the perspective of an outsider looking at the happenings and people around him. Historical incidents big and small flesh out the narrative, and lend a touch of grandeur to what is otherwise a very personal story.
The tale is an unusual one, given the nature of the surroundings James found himself in, and it is a truly interesting one. Penhaligon has a flair for characterization and dialogue. I found myself pulled into his story, and found it quite easy to read. Anyone with an interest in Africa, especially its colonial history, will find this book a very good read. I must admit that I wasn?t especially drawn to reading this book before I started, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with the story.