The half-truths biographers tell

The Autobiography of Geoffrey W. Griffin: Kenya's Champion Beggar as narrated to Yusuf King'ala. PHOTO/NATION

What you need to know:

  • Griffin’s failing memory at the time he was narrating his life story to Yusuf King’ala is not as disturbing as King’ala’s failure to double-check dates and events. Biographers bear the burden of researching their subjects thoroughly and scratching beyond the surface.
  • Larry King’s 2009 story, My Remarkable Journey, gives fresh insights on ways of injecting multiple perspectives into an autobiography. Written with Cal Fussman, King’s story includes the evaluations of his brother Marty Zeiger, sister-in-law Ellen David, and Herbie Cohen, a friend. Their views come at the end of chapters to provide additional information, alternative interpretations on incidents that King has just narrated and comments on aspects of King’s character.
  • How many Kenyans knew that Tom Mboya had an honorary doctorate? He never used the title Doctor. But we are a long way away from the 1960s of Mboya and we modern Kenyans are relentless in coining “peculiar habits” and new traditions.
  • One does not wear the title Doctor in public life, or list it under the Education section of one’s CV unless it has been earned from actual study at a recognised university.

Events in Lamu County last week forced me to revisit The Autobiography of Geoffrey W. Griffin: Kenya’s Champion Beggar as narrated to Yusuf King’ala.

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