Nowadays I think we are so used to reading blogs and books about people going off on crazy adventures around the world, that we have started to become a bit blasé about it. With daily posts and and status updates, it’s easier than ever to follow people’s travels, even when they’re on the other side of the world. But there’s absolutely no way you can be blasé about The White Masai – the true story of Corinne Hofmann who gave up her life in Switzerland to marry a Masai warrior in Kenya in the 1980s. Living in a community with very basic living conditions and no technology, Hofmann put her life on the line more than once in order to follow her heart.
We read the book for #travelbookclub and you can find out more about what we thought of it here.
Since leaving Kenya in 1990, Hofmann has written a number of books and Africa, My Passion is her fourth. The book, which expresses her love of the continent, is made up of three quite separate parts. The first is a 500 mile trek though the Namibian desert to discover the lives of the nomadic Himba people; the second is visiting the slums of Nairobi and the final part is about her return to the Masai village of Barsaloi to introduce her daughter Napirai to her father for the first time since she was a baby.
I read Africa, My Passion immediately after The White Masai and must admit that at first I felt a bit disappointed. Where I think Hofmann’s strengths lie is in forming relationships with people and bringing them to life for the reader. While I didn’t always agree with her actions in The White Masai, she certainly made me want to keep reading as she recounted her adventures and near misses. But unfortunately I felt that this was missing in her trek through Namibia.
I think that most of this was due to the fact that Hofmann couldn’t speak the same language as the Himba people, so her observations are brief. Although she touches on a few of their customs and traditions, the fact that she couldn’t communicate with them made their encounters seem quite distant.
She also briefly mentions falling out with the man she did the trip with, which may help to explain why he is mentioned so little. As a result of these factors the story mostly revolves around the actual trek and, while it is certainly an amazing achievement, it does not bring the desert to life for me. I also found the writing quite clunky, although this may be because of the translation from German.
So as I came to the end of her journey I felt that Africa, My Passion was not going to live up to The White Masai. However I was glad when the second part of the book proved me wrong. This is when Hofmann gets back to what she’s good at – meeting people and telling their stories. She visits the slums in Nairobi with representatives from various charities to see how they help the people living there. The stories she tells bring the characters to life and perfectly encapsulate the African spirit, which anyone who has been to the continent will know so well. I loved her meetings with a number of strong, determined women, who were trying to change their lives and improve the communities around them.
The final part of the book is about Hofmann returning to her former Masai village with her daughter, who she took to live in Switzerland as a baby. This is my favourite section, as it is told in alternating parts by Hofmann and Napirai, so the reader sees their encounters from both points of view.
Napirai’s arrival in Barsaloi is a huge moment for her Masai family and it is heart-warming to see how they instantly welcome her into the family. I also thought it was commendable that they feel no resentment towards Hofmann, despite the fact that she had taken the baby from them (in the Masai tradition the first born female belongs to the husband’s family).
Likewise, it is lovely to see how Napirai, who had initially been reluctant to meet up with her African family, forms such a tight connection with them and falls in love with the country in the same way that her mother did all those years ago.