A review in late of ‘All Things Must Fight to Live’

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” came out two days ago. The book is the story of William Kamkwamba, a young fellow from Malawi who built windmills based solely upon books that he read in a library. I had a chance to meet him and actually do a short interview at the Maker Faire Africa in August. Extremely nice, soft spoken guy who seems to be the complete antithesis to all the fame that has been showered upon him recently. Needless to say, I am anxious to read the book once I get my hands on it as well as to have others [mom] read it who may not completely understand the other sides to Africa.
While William is listed at the main author, the co-author of the book is Bryan Mealer. Mealer is a journalist who spent a good chunk of time in the Congo DRC covering the last wars that happened there. His book, All Things Must Fight to Live chronicles those times. I’ve just now finished the book and felt like sharing a couple of thoughts on it. First of all, it’s definitely a good read if for nothing else than the fact that it’s written by a journalist. The ones I’ve seen who write good books have a style that is succinct and direct, while in motion at all time. Mealer’s book definitely falls in to this.
The book covers three large chunks of time: The hell that is war, The journey up the Congo River, and The journey by train in the south. Essentially, it follows a model of collapse, atonement, and rebirth. The first part will probably be the toughest for many readers. Mealer writes in extremely livid detail. If he were anyone else, I might say it’s over the top, but he was indeed there. I was starting to get really put off by how graphic it was until I understood that he was setting up the reader for the second and third parts. The second part is more of an adventure. It’s a return to normalcy. The third part is looking towards the future and bathes the reader in the plush era of bygone days that seem to be in reach again now that the absolute bottom has been reached.
If this is the first book that someone reads on the Congo, then it will be extremely informative. I’ve read I don’t how many books on the country at this point and great swaths of this was all rehash. It forms one of my biggest criticisms of the book in that it was published in 2008 and all of this history is stuff you can read on Wikipedia, or in more amazing detail with a book like King Leopold’s Ghost, which is as lush and approachable a history text as I’ve read in a long time. I get the feeling that some of this was not Mealer’s doing though. Much like a bad producer will tell a film director that voice over is needed to explain the film to the audience, I get the feeling that the editor of the book told Bryan that this was needed for context of what he was writing because it goes a long way to slowing down his well paced narrative. But, it’s there and if you know it, you can skip it and get on to the items that are from his perspective.
Overall, the book is not “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz”. That is a similar book, written by a journalist, but Michaela Wrong was and continues to be a master of text of which I am always in awe of when I get to read anything new she writes. Bryan Mealer is not bad though. In fact, he’s quite good. It’s just that he’s young and I think he has a way to go before his writings that are longer than a news article get a more even tone to them. As it is, there are some wonderful, achingly enjoyable chunks of prose in the book, but they are spaced apart by other pieces that work more to function as bland connective tissue.
Bryan will get to a tighter point with his work, especially now that he managed to get out that first, breakthrough publication. This is all the more reason as to why I want to read the Kamkwamba book as I find second efforts of a person to be so much more telling of their talent than the first attempts.
A review in late of 'All Things Must Fight to Live'