Shakespeare in Swahililand: In Search of a Global Poet
Edward Wilson-Lee, in his book Shakespeare in Swahililand, brings us an unusual take on the Bard’s influence in East Africa. He is not interested in exploring history and culture as generally communicated via the study of the government or politics of the region, but instead by looking at where cultures intersected in this one thread: the literary history of the influence Shakespeare had on the area. We follow Wilson-Lee through Zanzibar, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Sudan where he details how Shakespeare is found and historically absorbed.
Like all cultures, the East Africans appropriated the works of Shakespeare to use for their own individual purposes. Wilson-Lee talks to everyone from academics and those working in the theatre to soldiers and those providing humanitarian aid in order to explore the ways Shakespeare has shaped the culture and also how his works have been changed to advance the people’s agendas.
What is most surprising is the way Wilson-Lee weaves his own experiences and stories of his childhood spent growing up in East Africa. Though personal anecdotes are generally not something that one would find in a research book, it is this that makes it compelling reading and an entirely approachable and enjoyable text. I would have loved to read a book such as this while I was doing my undergrad work in Shakespeare. It certainly would have made it more interesting for many who sat beside me in class!
Farrar, Straus and Giroux