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Somebody's Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa Paperback – May 13, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Departures ed edition (May 13, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400032598
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400032594
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,190,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

From Booklist

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 Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

A very well written and easy read.
Happypoppeye
Tanya has a writing style that provides a wonderful picture of her experiences.
Brian Drygas
After reading her book, I feel like I know Tanya.
C.Rottweiler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Edward Green on June 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Move over, V. S. Naipaul and Paul Theroux; there's a new kid on the block, but with a decided feminist slant. Tanya Shaffer's African odyssey, adds an affecting intimacy to the account of the people, places, and things chronicled in the usual travel book. Her role as a volunteer in the construction of schools and hospitals in small communities of Ghana, living in the homes of local families and sharing their lives, and her wanderings by the most plebeian public conveyances - overcrowded buses and canoes - are the settings for heartwarming encounters with individuals whose lives we come to share. Ms. Shaffer's staunch respect for cultural differences does not silence her from voicing her objections to men who follow sexist tribal customs.that demean their wives and impede the modernization of Africa.. Her narrative sets a brisk pace that holds and delights the reader through a charming picaresque tale of the personal growth of a young woman.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
A friend gave me this book and I was completely entranced by it. Shaffer?s
voice is so fresh, so wry, so funny and candid that she won me over
instantly! Her African adventures, first as a volunteer and then as a solo
traveler, bring her into contact with Africans and foreigners from all walks
of life. The depth of her connection to these individuals, and the way she
captures the complex personal dynamics that arise between people of
different cultural and economic backgrounds really sets this apart from
other travel narratives I have read. Each person she met became so real to
me that I found myself missing them when I put down the book. She is also
a great storyteller: her narrative is filled with suspense and surprises that
kept me turning the pages, eager to learn what happened next. Underneath
all that was her ongoing struggle about what it means to be a person from
the "developed" world traveling in the "developing" world. I laughed, I was
moved, I questioned, and I learned a lot about Africa in the process. A
great read!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 21, 2003
Format: Paperback
I received this book as a gift and really didn't know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. The author has created a package of stories that unfold in curious ways, each revealing a little more about herself and the people she encounters. Shaffer's vivid imagery left me a lot to think about...I've already lent it to a friend so we can discuss. My only criticism would be that I wanted it to continue. I don't know where Ms. Shaffer is now, but I hope she's writing!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I had so much fun reading this book! As a traveler, I related so much to all the different pieces of it. I laughed so hard, and I also found that it had a surprising emotional impact that lasted long after I put it down. I couldn't stop thinking about the characters-- I felt like I knew the Africans, the volunteers, and the narrator herself, in all their glorious confused humanness! What a great journey.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Karla Hart on September 20, 2006
Format: Paperback
Tanya's honesty and openess in sharing real emotions and internal conflicts makes her so human to me. With each new picture (chapter), I felt as if she pulled up a chair beside me and brought the story sparked by the picture to life. I am a captive audience and will revisit the stories at leisure to gather more of their richness of content and language.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Brian Drygas on November 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
Tanya has a writing style that provides a wonderful picture of her experiences. Without reaching the conclusions for you, she clearly shows the lessons she learned in her travels in Africa. I got a real feeling for the people and situations she describes, that sound so real and strange at the same time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By C.Rottweiler on December 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book was really excellent. After reading her book, I feel like I know Tanya. Her writing is very accessible. I learned a lot about Africa that I didn't know. I don't have the guts to travel through Africa like her, but after reading her book, I feel like I have done it. Pick it up, you'll love it!
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By G. on October 29, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I didn't enjoy this book. I am a traveler myself and usually love to read travel books. However, this one is simply about a privileged woman from America out to enjoy herself as she sees best. In spite of traveling through and living in some of the world's poorest places, there is hardly any personal accounts of her interactions with the women that live in that world. It is all about her friendships and interactions with men and men alone which was really disappointing to me.

The other huge thing that bothered me was there is no mention of FGM (Female Genital Cutting) at all. I would have hoped that the author would at least mention it and try to spread awareness of this horrible practice that occurs almost everywhere in West Africa through her book (and her theater). I was extremely disappointed and even disgusted to find no reference to it and in fact, I would not be surprised if the author does not know much about it herself in spite of living in that region for a year. What a waste. This is a classic case of selfish traveling. What good is traveling or anything in life if it helps no one but yourself?

If you want to learn more about this region or just enjoy travel books in general, I highly recommend books written by Kira Salak instead.
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