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Masai Dreaming
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 17 February 2003
I read this book last year while I was living in East Africa, where the novel is set. I found it to be a very vivid account of the place and the people of the area, both the white "KC" community and the indigenous Masaai . The story is also well told and packs an emotional punch at the end which I had not at all expected.
One of the reviewers below seems to find something obnoxious in the narrators attitude to women, while I can understand where the reviewer might have found that , I don`t think the criticism of mysogeny is a fair one. The narrator is obviously carrying emotional baggage after his messy break-up, but how he eventually deals with that through the quest to unearth the story of his protagonist, is one of the main themes of the book. It`s an important part of understanding why this character is doing what he has decided to do. Cartwrights characterisations are strong throughout and his observations of East Africa had me laughing with painful recognition.
I would ,and have, recommended this book to friends.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Many people consider this Justin Cartwright's finest novel to date, a story about a French woman who lives in Africa, and returns to France to try to save her family from the Holocaust. But the story acquires added depth and extraordinary fascination when the script writer, Tim Curtiz, one of Cartwright's best characters, returns to E. Africa to research the story. It is beautifully written, and heartbreaking.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
This beautiful and idea-filled novel is so daring in its choice of subjects and scenes that one is stunned by its cumulative effect. In what may seem at first to be an unlikely or inappropriate juxtaposition, the author contrasts the horrors of the Holocaust with the pastoral, and seemingly simple life among the Masai in Kenya. This never feels demeaning, insensitive, or inappropriate, however. By developing both these subjects, Cartwright is able to illustrate in unique and imaginative ways the wider universal issue of ethnicity as a factor in the search for justice, love, and a Universal Spirit.
On the surface this the story of journalist Tim Curtiz's search for the truth about Claudia Cohn-Casson, a French Jewish researcher of the Masai, who was betrayed to the Nazis when she returned home in the final days of World War II. Curtiz is planning to write a screenplay for an "Out of Africa"-type film to be shot in Kenya, and in his attempt to understand the "real" Claudia, he interviews both an elderly British ex-patriate, Tom Fairfax, who was Claudia's lover, and the elderly laibon of the Masai community which Claudia studied. Both men suffered great losses as a result of their contact with Claudia, something with which Tim Curtiz, also suffering a loss, can identify.
As the narrative unfolds, it follows the hypnotic, circular dancing patterns of the Masai as it twists, leaps, and turns back upon itself, while gathering in the details of Claudia's life, the mystery of her disappearance, and the complications in the lives of the subordinate characters. The elasticity of Cartwright's prose is perfectly suited to this style, as he varies his sentence lengths to control the overall pace and moves from positively lyrical descriptions of the African savannah to turgidly doom-filled passages describing the cattle cars transporting Jews to the camps. The author deserves to have wider distribution of this fine novel. Mary Whipple
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 January 2013
It is the late 1980s. The journalist Tim Curtiz had written an article about Drancy, the centre in France from which the Nazis had deported Jews to the extermination camps. Presumably - it is never made clear - he had found during his researches that among these deportees had been Claudia Cohn-Casson, a French Jewish anthropologist who had been working for more than four years with the Masai in Northern Tanzania and who had been on the last train from Drancy to Auschwitz. The article had caught the eye of a Hollywood film producer, S.O.Letterman, who had commissioned him to write a script for a film about her.

Claudia's theory had been that it is error to think that there is a progressive evolution from the primitive to the civilized.

It is a well-crafted novel, but is one of those which moves backward and forward in time. The first mention of what happened to Claudia is in Chapter 2, in which she is in a cattle truck on the way to the camps - a vision of how barbaric a so-called civilized society can be. Eleven chapters then intervene before the next brief - and, as it turns out, cleverly misleading - mention of her fate, to be followed by many more that make no reference to it.

These chapters are taken up with Tim's arrival in Masai country, a description of its sights and smells (he is strong on smells), of Masai customs (above all, what their cattle means to them, and, crucially to this story, their code of honour which apparently forbids them to lie, whatever the consequences), a little of Masai myths and of the colonial and post-colonial history of Tanzania, and of his making enquiries with any Masai and with a couple of European old stagers who had known Claudia. In the first part of the book these chapters, in turn, are interleaved leaved with others about Tim's graphic memories of his steamy and jealous relationship, back in London, with his girl-friend Victoria.

The author also departs frequently from the Tim's narrative to tell us, in scenes which Tim would not have witnessed, about S.O.Letterman. Through Letterman we are given a take on Hollywood values and morals. He goes to Paris to choose a French actress to play Claudia, and this gives Cartwright the opportunity for descriptions of the city and for reflections about Parisians, including their reactions to the period of collaboration.

All this is told very well, but in quite a leisurely and even occasionally a repetitive manner: the central plot moves forward slowly - probably intentionally so, as there are references to the Masai not leading the rushed lives of urban Europeans - and it gathers pace only about half way through the book.

Claudia, Tim finds out, had made quite an impact, both on a young Masai and on a then young British major. She had wanted to be part of the community she was observing; but she had allowed herself to be instrumental in the intrusion of an American film crew to film a lion hunt, and that would be the trigger for all the events that follow.

Whatever Tim now learns, he is inclined to turn in his mind's eye to how it would look on film.

Eventually we learn the circumstances which led to Claudia's apparently so unaccountable return to Nazi-occupied France in 1944 (where her father was still living, wearing the yellow star but refusing to see any danger to himself). We also guess, right at the end, how Tim could have reconstructed those months between her return to France and her deportation.

Throughout the book, there are Tim's philosophical reflections about all manner of topics, from those arising out of anthropology to human relationships. I found these heavy going at times.
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on 14 May 2014
Having read The Song Before it is Sung which I thoroughly enjoyed, I sought out another book by Justin Cartwright, but was nowhere near as impressed with Masai Dreaming. The story itself is about a Jewish French anthropologist who before and during the Second World War is studying the Masai. She has a love interest or two before returning to France where she her brother and father are tragically swept up in the last group of Jews to be transported to Auschwitz. All this we find out in the first chapter or two, the rest of the book then tells the story in more detail, but frankly, it is a very thin story with a lot of philosophising to pad it out. Maybe I am not clever enough, but I found Masai Dreaming turgid and frankly a bit of a bore.
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on 18 July 2010
I did not know of Justin Cartwright before but so glad I took the opportunity.
He has the ability of really drawing the reader into the plot and ensures you know each person well with non boring detail. Also writes with compassion and feeling. Loved it...good read and escapism.
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on 14 July 2014
A powerful and moving love story as well as a perceptive and elegiac portrait of a vanishing way of life [inserted on behalf of the reviewer -David Lumsley]
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3 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 13 May 2002
I started off liking this book, there were some very vivid descriptions where Cartwright paints pictures of the past using up to date images and references and these effectively conjure up filmlike images.
The book is about a writer who is putting together a film script and throughout the book, the text often reminded me of stage directions and the type of 'signposts' that would denote how the image would look onscreen.
However, quite soon into the book, a scene between the main character and his unfaithful partner was shocking in its vulgarity. In the depiction of sex between these two characters, I was reminded of the type of sex or dialogue you might find in a male written and directed pornographic film, not at all tender or loving but misogynistic and titillating to certain men, the woman portrayed as one dimensional and willing to be used by him. I have no objection to sex scenes in books but this adds nothing of value and hangs in the air of the book like a bad smell.
Throughout the book the writer shows a juvenile pre-occupation with genitals and sexual behaviour - when speculating about the female anthropologist who is the subject of his screenplay he appears to be more interested in her love life than in her contribution to the understanding of the Masai tribes.
There is some good writing here, unfortunately it's overshadowed by a sexist voice throughout.
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