From Publishers Weekly
Shaffer's vivid travel memoir captures scenes of Kenya, Mali and, most notably, Ghana, rarely seen by American tourists. Fleeing a marriage proposal from her boyfriend in California, Shaffer, a white 27-year-old upper-middle-class performance artist with progressive politics, decides to travel, choosing to participate in various volunteer efforts in order to spend more time and less money in Africa. Her tales are rich in visual and cultural explication; villages and hamlets too tiny for names come to hot, vibrant, scent-laden, insect-thrumming life as Shaffer depicts the dailiness of African culture and the struggle to subsist. The unrelenting heat, ubiquitous disease and economic chaos make Africans eager to leave. Unfortunately, racism and privilege underlie Shaffer's travelogue, and she does not fully address either. In one of the book's best chapters, Shaffer meets Nadhiri, a black separatist from Berkeley with whom she does a complex sociopolitical dance in which Nadhiri's prejudice is revealed, but Shaffer's own motives are not. Throughout, Shaffer notes the bigotry of Africans toward African-Americans, but never her possible own. Nor does she explore the reality of grinding African poverty in comparison to her own relatively immense privilege. Regrettably, no coda follows Shaffer's compelling memoir. In the end, Shaffer battles malaria, leaving readers caught in her febrile dreams of Africa and her California lover, wishing the author had deepened her reportage. Photos.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Disillusioned with her relationship with her adoring boyfriend, Michael, Shaffer decided to go to West Africa. She signed on to some building projects, and the loose commitment allowed her freedom to explore the communities she lived in and to move between countries. Most of her time was spent in Ghana. There she encountered Hannah, a fragile Dutch aid worker whose spirit was tested by a love affair gone bad and a friendship wrecked by a brutal husband. Shaffer is enchanted by baby Yao, and when he fell ill, she went to great lengths to save him, alienating his mother in the process. An overzealous Ghanaian woman named Christy befriended Shaffer and one of her fellow aid workers and soon became omnipresent in their lives. When Shaffer left Ghana, she decided to go to Timbuktu, but the journey proved to be arduous and dangerous. Shaffer is a natural storyteller and she evokes the villages she visited and the people she met masterfully. Readers interested in life in Africa will be enthralled by her tales. Kristine HuntleyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved