Book reviews: non-fiction from Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner, Michael Thomsen, and Nils Uddenberg
Odede and Posner, who founded the charity Shofco, reveal the resilience and courage of some of the world’s poorest people
Find Me Unafraid
by Kennedy Odede and Jessica Posner
Harper Audio (audiobook)
Even if you’ve never heard of Shofco before, you will not forget its name after this book. Standing for Shining Hope for Communities, it tackles gender inequality and poverty in Nairobi’s slums, helping also to improve education, health, water and sanitation and more for their inhabitants. Find Me Unafraid tells of Shofco through the unlikely love story of its founders, Kennedy Odede, a child of Kibera, Nairobi’s largest slum, and American Jessica Posner, a Wesleyan undergraduate who worked as a volunteer in Kenya. Instead of staying in a middle-class neighbourhood where she had accommodation in a house with running water and electricity, she chose to live 15 minutes away in his slum. Their story, told in alternate chapters, is nothing less than gripping, and includes his fleeing violence in 2007 for Tanzania and entering Wesleyan on a scholarship. We hear of Kennedy’s natural leadership, how he modelled himself after Marcus Garvey and why community work was important to him. Posner’s account of the women she meets at Kibera, and their stories of rape, unplanned motherhood, hardship and death, is harrowing. This book is also important for insights into development and why foreign handouts alone can fail.
by Michael Thomsen
Amazon Digital Services (e-book)
Michael Thomsen needs to write. That much is clear from Hollywood Ending, in which sentences run for miles and thoughts career at speed. His is an account of the movie industry from afar and up close. The near view is gritty and desperate. He writes screenplays he hopes others will commit to, despite being in an industry where “producing a movie was living in a plane of reality where almost nothing was possible, where the answer was always assuredly no”. We learn how Titanic was the first real indication of stagnation: the movie was so expensive its production costs had to be met by two studios. The coping tactic soon became commonplace as production costs continued to climb in the face of plummeting moviegoer numbers and major studios started looking for an exit. Thomsen does well in conveying the decline of auteurship; he also points out that despite the cult of celebrity around directors, they can be among the most superficial positions on a set, with the logistics of moviemaking more important than a creative’s “daydreaming”. However, just as you have given up hope – for moviemaking and Thomsen – there’s the prospect of success.
The Old Man and the Cat
by Nils Uddenberg
Thomas Dunne Books (e-book)
Cat lovers, especially busy ones, will understand the guilty pleasure in reading this kind of book, which is part soppy hagiography, part memoir. Isn’t it all too easy to write about one’s pets? What – if the author isn’t expounding on animal research – can be said that will be interesting to strangers? Those who have read Doris Lessing’s On Cats will know what. The same kind of reader will appreciate Nils Uddenberg’s love story involving the author in old age and a cat that turns up one day and insists on staying. Kitty moves in with the author, a former psychiatrist, who knows that, at most, the cat will return his love with trust. Filled with “psychologising”, the book is not simply a description of feline antics but a thoughtful work that broaches human needs. Uddenberg, who is convinced that what a person used to be is important for who s/he becomes, assumes the same is true for his cat. Because the cat knows how to provide comfort, he wonders whether she had been someone else’s perfect family cat in the past. The Old Man and the Cat makes great lazy-day reading for the suitably inclined.