He flew in, represented his country for almost a decade and wrote with rare veracity about the host nation which shocked him with more than just warm-heartedness.
Through his book, former Norwegian Ambassador Asbjorn Eidhammer brings into question the relevance of Malawian scribes who seldom write compellingly about their country and reminds readers that career authors do not lack time, but a burning desire to research and write.
Malawi: A Place Apart is not the first book to tell the Malawian story with heartfelt passion and insights—and it may not be the last.
But Eidhammer’s book stimulates the civil rage and burning urge to dig deeper into more stories worth telling about the Warm Heart of Africa.
Besides themes of entrenched corruption, poverty, hunger, cultural diversity and underdevelopment of the creative sector, the envoy-cum-writer even tackles seemingly insignificant issues, including the undressing of women wearing miniskirts.
He may be seen as a Nordic who only stayed in Malawi for eight years, but his new book is packed with candid perspectives on everyday realities faced by Malawians.
Eidhammer launched his newest book on Wednesday at the Story Club, an arty place managed by writer Shadreck Chikoti in Lilongwe.
During the event, Eidhammer, who flew in from Norway last week, admitted that there are more stories worth telling.
“The stories I am telling about Malawi are not complete. In fact, I tell them from information I get from reliable people and sometimes from experience. Obviously, there is more to be told,” he said.
In the book, the author brings together unique tales of politics and culture, democratisation process and [under]development-all told from different perspectives, including Eidhammer’s own opinions.
It captures the country’s history, prevailing realities and what lies ahead.
The author hopes it will be a reference text for what it has as well as what it lacks.
“There is more about Malawi’s politics which needs to be written. There is no music in this book, that is why it is not complete. But even if it had all these, it would never be complete,” says the former envoy.
Source of insights
His successor, Kikkan Haugen, described the book as an introduction to more stories to be told about the Warm Heart of Africa.
Turning to Eidhammer, he said: “You recognise, describe and tell the story of Malawi from even precolonial era. Then there are chapters about recent political history.
“My hope for this book is that it will be a huge source of information for many people. I hope it will stimulate debate on different issues about Malawi.”
Malawi: A Place Apart, published by Logos-Open Culture, offers some food for thought on whether democracy is contributing to the development of the country.
According to Logos-Open Culture director Muti Michael Phoya, the book lives up to the publishing house’s mission in telling the Malawi story in a unique way.
“Our main goal is to tell the Malawian story in depth and that is what Asbjorn has done in this book,” he says, adding, “we are telling our own stories, but we should be more structured and we must do a lot of research.”
This is one of the major lessons from Eidhammer’s book.
With the hunger for writing about Malawi which the book is likely to generate, Phoya has opened the door for manuscripts from curious writers who now have an idea of what an outstanding text about Malawi should be.
“We are open to engaging with other writers as long as there is quality in what they bring to us,” says Phoya.
For years, the publishing house has also been working on a documentary to retell the story of the country’s pioneer nationalist John Chilembwe which Phoya argues has been severely twisted.
The desired quality obviously requires a lot of time, writing, travel, research and retakes-and money.
Eidhammer, who often had to produce periodical reports and cables to Oslo, may have had no problem gathering and chronicling deeper insights into a country he once knew very little about.
“I like reading. I like seeing situations and events and collecting information. So, there is time for gathering information,” said Eidhammer when Pastor Sean Kampondeni asked him about the making of the book.
Great writers often say the same.
It is a clue for all writers vying to produce must-reads. n