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BOOK: The Boy With Shoes
Author: Hillary Lisimba Ambani
ISBN: 978-9966-804-91-4
Publisher: Mystery Publishers LTD
Date Published: 15 January 1983
Reviewer: Nancy Oyula

You are really not sure what lies ahead when the first chapter of the book you are reading is titled ‘An Imbecile is Born’. I knew I was going to read Hillary’s entertaining but great story but did not expect such a start. I love how the author describes his mother as hardworking, determined and a role model. Hillary Lisimba takes us through his life story in ‘The Boy with Shoes: A Kenyan Childhood’. Born on Friday, 10th May, 1985 in Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Hillary was the only son to his parents. The author grew up in Mbale, western Kenya. He came from a humble background which meant that only the basics and not luxury were at home. What makes the writer’s flow amazing is how natural he was in his writing. Everything he wrote about was candid.

I love how the author takes us through the village life; weaning cows, farming, fetching water and visiting the local town which was a restricted area for the youngins, except on certain days. The village activities the author shared made his early life seem simple but exciting. Hillary has a comical way of telling his stories. I feel like I would sit through a storytelling session just to hear him share the stories. The author uses humor to explain serious or sad scenarios, which kills the feeling of empathy the reader could have when reading. Hillary’s story is relatable to many kids who grew up in the village. Christmas, like most children, was a delight to him. Getting to spend the holiday in the city where the father worked made the holidays shorter and more remarkable.

Hillary’s experience when wearing shoes for the first time is perhaps the most noteworthy thing in the book. I love how innocent and thrilled he sounded. He was happy and bewildered. ‘..The next stop was at a Bata shop. I had not seen so many shoes in one place before; shoes with flowers, plain white shoes, shoes with huge soles, shoes with long noses, shoes with laces, some without. I was mesmerized..’ Reads a part of the book. Little Hillary’s reaction to the many shoes he saw was lovely and innocent. The simple joys of taking a photo in the old Kodak studios in the village are some of the things that defined the author’s childhood.

The title of the book and the first ever pair of shoes Hillary Lisimba owned have a significance. By wearing the shoes, the author protected self from things that could harm his feet. The shoes were also a source of envy among some of his peers who could not afford them at the time. We can break this down to show how that some things which protect us can be a source of envy from some of our acquaintances. The author referred to his shoes as a ‘necessary evil’. I concur. The shoes also helped the author view life through a different lens. How privileged he was to own shoes when 90% of the school walked bare feet. Through the single pair, we can see how classes in societies are born as some people are fortunate to get things their associates can’t get.

The author’s mother is a hero and his pillar. It is funny that Hillary referred to his mother as Margaret Thatcher throughout the book, yet he loved her to death. Through Hillary Lisimba’s mother, we see how strong women are. Women run households and ensure that everything goes well in the house. Hillary’s mother practically raised him and his siblings alone if you look it at from a different perspective. The father worked in the city and only came to visit them in the village when his job allowed him to. This is not to say that the father was absent from the children’s’ life; he was there, just on rare occasions.

The mother knew every child inside-out, what they loved, how naughty they were and what they were up to at all times. She was the strong African woman we hear about every day; taking care of the kids and also ensuring that her husband was attended to every time he visited. Thatcher switched to a no-nonsense authoritarian when she needed to, but also showered her children with unending love. This is not to downplay the father’s efforts as the old man was responsible In his duties. He provided for their essentials as he should have, and played his fatherly roles every time he was around. The book was interesting to read, with a simple writing style.

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