I felt the blisters in my hands bite with each swing of the hoe. I tossed seeds worth their weight in gold into the carefully plowed rows. I waited with baited breath for the rains to come and moisten the brown earth. I tracked his journey from sowing to harvest, and devoured line after line alongside him as he poured over the physics texts. I starved with him during famine and cried when he was forced to drop out of school. I lived every last adventure and misadventure, rejoicing in his final triumph but aching deep down, knowing that ultimately I knew nothing of all the struggle he had overcome.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind tells the story of William Kamkwamba, the son of a poor farmer in Malawi, who clings to his dreams at all costs and surmounts inordinate strife to achieve the seemingly impossible. William tends to the family farm, endures painful starvation, and despite forgoing formal education for the greater part of his life because his family cannot afford to pay the annual fees, seeks out knowledge. Persistence results in an ingeniously fashioned windmill made of materials scavenged from a scrapyard. William’s “electric wind” is the first of its kind not only in his village but in the entire country as well, revolutionizing the production of energy in his tiny corner of the developing world.

Clear, straightforward language illustrates the absolute destitution of poverty and the miracle of unlikely success arising from unforgiving circumstance. While the book frequently falls into the feel-good genre of inspirational literature, the inspiration nonetheless comes at a high emotional price. The vast chasm between developing and developed repeatedly broke my heart. But what I found most remarkable was that in a generation of abundant Blackberrys and MacBooks, this story comes from a region still rife with a primitivity the developed world assumes existed centuries ago.

What this book reveals is the disparity of wealth, opportunities, and even basic necessities that was prescient in a past actually not far removed and which likely continues today. Homes made of mud walls and termite-ridden thatched roofs comprise current dwellings for middle-class Malawians. 2002 was the year famine struck, drowning whole communities in starvation and death.  In 2007, the protagonist William took his first plane flight and was introduced to the internet. The internet!

By most standards, I am considered a late bloomer. I never had an AIM screename until college, my ‘archaic’ Nokia brick cell phone that I still proudly use is practically a relic, and I didn’t have a texting plan (limited, of course) until one year ago. And yet there are targeted populations all over the world where social networking means walking a few miles to a neighbor’s house, and are unaware of the conveniences of Google and email. What do I know about starvation, political instability, and the physical costs of hard, manual labor?

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind was a simultaneously hopeful and painful read; a paradox worth perusing.