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My confident assumption that the book would enjoy brisk trade in Nairobi's bookshops was shared by the best-selling Kenyan newspaper, the Daily Nation, which agreed to serialise it. "Make sure your publisher gets plenty of copies out here," a Nation editor warned me. "There's going to be a rush of demand."

Publication was in mid February. Kenyan reviewers, who I'd expected to be somewhat prickly, amazed me with their generosity. Far from taking offence at a white outsider's take on their society, they thanked me for breaking a cultural taboo that kept too many Kenyans silent. "Michela Wrong has written a book that will change Kenyan history," one even declared. "Nothing will ever be the same." 

Appearing a year after the most violent elections in Kenyan history and coinciding with a mood of public fury at the continued looting of state coffers by a coalition government cobbled together to avert all-out civil war, It's Our Turn to Eat had clearly hit a nerve. Discussing it was a way of wrestling with the nation's problems, and desperately worried Kenyans did so, with passion, on letters pages and websites.

Music to my ears, but I noticed that most were clearly debating a work they had never read. Was the book actually selling? A few Kenyan newspapers reported that Nairobi's booksellers had deemed the book too hot to handle. Hmm.

In the bad old Moi days, "controversial" books were routinely traded like hard-core pornography, slipped under the counter when no one was watching. It seemed the practice had returned. I felt flattered to be in the same company as John le Carré, whose The Constant Gardener was deemed too close to the bone. But the crude state censorship of that era had surely died with the arrival of the internet, mobile phone and private radio stations, I told myself. The government had taken no position on my book. The profit-hungry African nation I knew would surely prove unable to resist the opportunity to make a quick buck selling what Kenyan bloggers hailed as a "collector's item".

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July 17th, 2009
9:07 PM
Can only agree to the previous commenter. You have gone viral, as your friend put it, and thats for example how I heard about it. I read it and bought it when it came on Amazon. And I think thats how it goes for most people that have the money for books. We all love real paper. As you say there are "few less enticing prospects than reading an entire book on a flickering screen." Masses reading your book on a screen honors your work, and the moment it was printed most of those that could afford to buy it, did buy it. Saying there will be less books like this, when you are printing more than with any other book so far, is just the wrong perspective.

July 17th, 2009
1:07 PM
>But I can only guess how many copies I would >have sold had it not been for the double whammy >of boycott and piracy. Or how many less copies would have been bought, if the availability of the book across the globe didn't raise it a bit on a scale from obscurity to popularity...

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