on 25 April 2011
This is one of those books that on the face of it should be fascinating, but a clunky style (maybe partly due to translators, but it's hard to say) and the fact that Hoffman seems (to put it generously) a little naive, make it a hard book to really like.
It's marketed as a cross-cultural love story, a woman doing everything possible to be with the man she adores, but there's precious little actual love. A bad case of lust, though. Rather than a love story, it would be more realistic to frame it as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of trying to base a real relationship on the flimsy foundation of mere physical attraction. Hoffman sees a man she fancies, relentlessly pursues him based on looks alone, then appears genuinely surprised when the relationship founders. Considering the only thing they have in common is her sex drive...
There are good points - one is (albeit reluctantly) forced to admire the courage with which she dives wholeheartedly into this new adventure, but it's hard to get past the fact that she is incredibly naive and to ignore her total lack of reality. The reader will pick up some interesting cultural information and get an insight into the clash between cultures. However, like many other reviewers I find Hoffman's naivety-bordering-on-stupidity frustrating and in the end a huge turn off in reading the book. Too much of the time I just wanted to scream at her to face reality.
It's sad that a reasonably intelligent, mature woman could be so blind to the difference between love and lust, and it gradually gets too plain irritating that she is behaving like a hormone-riddled teenager. No matter how much money she throws at the problem (an irreconcilable cultural chasm that the clueless Hoffman has no hope of bridging) it won't go away; it probably says something about the culture and values in our society that this also seems to be Hoffman's only idea of how to improve the situation.
It also feels uncomfortably voyeuristic and exploitative. One can't help wondering if she actually asked any of her Kenyan in laws whether it was OK to publish their experiences and culture when she got back to Switzerland.
In the end, it's interesting, but it does not live up to the hype and it was hard enough to plough through the once. I came away from it feeling faintly like I needed a really good shower from the cultural insensitivity, the cluelessness, the idiocy of this woman. Marketing clearly gave it an edge in getting in the bestseller lists, but don't be fooled - this is a book to borrow from a friend or from the library before you part with your hard earned money. It's not a book that is going to be re-read many times.
on 28 September 2010
I was really disappointed by this book. It isn't really a romance story at all, it's just about a naive, selfish young woman who decided she wanted a man and unashamedly did everything she could to get and then keep him.
In a way I admire her bravery in leaving behind her life in Switzerland, including her family and her business, to try a new life in Kenya. However, as you begin reading the book it's obvious from the start that it will never work. Corinne is like a teenager with a crush, obsessed with someone that she doesn't even know and this makes her come across as naive and a bit shallow.
There are parts of the book when I found myself feeling sorry for her, like when she was ill with malaria and when she was dealing with her husband's jealous rages. However, these events are in a way her own fault - she clearly wasn't taking any anti-malarial medication and her husband's jealousy was a cultural difference rather than a fault of his. When things go wrong, her response seems to be to simply burst into tears and expect sympathy. She always seems to expect other people to help her out as well, rather than sorting problems out herself. I appreciate that things were difficult for her, but if she had done a little more research before giving her comfortable Swiss life up, then it may have been easier.
When Corinne eventually has to return to Switzerland with her tail between her legs, it isn't really a surprise at all and it's difficult to feel any sympathy for her.
Having said that, I would say the book is worth a read because it does give a fascinating insight into the Masai culture. And the author, although hugely irritating, makes this a compelling read in a 'love to hate it' kind of way. But get it out from your local library, I wouldn't waste any money on it!!
on 3 August 2013
A very interesting storyline - but so badly written. Or badly translated? It sounds as if translated into English by a German. No racism here, as I am German myself. I find it very unprofessional and after a few pages it made me cringe. The protagonist annoyed me and I could not at all relate to her childish behaviour. I did not read past page 9. It is a great shame, because it could make such a good book.
on 16 August 2010
Well, what can I say, I read through this book much easier and quicker than I anticipated, it makes a wonderful reading group read as it is thought provoking and I am sure that everyone has their own opinions. Mine is that Corrine Hofmann must be off her trolley! I could not get my head around her travelling on a ferry with her partner with whom she has travelled to Africa on holiday, spotting the Masai sitting on the river bank and knowing he was the 'man of her dreams'. I came away from this book with feelings of sorry for the local people having to put up with her, sorry for the guy from the church who is always getting her out of bother and wondering if she had real friends and family or if they are a figment of her imagination as I cannot imagine that any of my friends/family would condone me to act in this way. I ended the book wondering what the heck happened to them all as time progressed and she returned home with her child. I feel harsh condeming Ms Hofmann as selfish in her actions, and do wonder if the horridly romanticised descriptions of her Masi (as if her really belongs to her!) are due to translation into english - therefore I will give it the benefit of the doubt. Read it with friends and then have a big discussion - as this book will surely get a reaction from all who read it.
on 3 January 2008
This book is a fascinating biography of one woman's experience of starting a new life in an alien culture. Her story begins when she meets her Masai on holiday and becomes obsessed by him. She leaves her home country Switzerland to become his wife and live in the depths of Kenya.
The back of the book has the quote from the Daily Mail 'dashing tale of love and adventure' and herein lies the fundamental reason as to why this book is so incredibly irritating. Hofman clearly is NOT in love with her masai. Throughout the book she keeps trying to create the impression to the reader that this is love with rather whimsical descriptions and lots of 'My darling husband' scattered generously throughout its pages. However beneath the fluff it is interesting when you look at her core descrptions of him and their relationship. She talks of being a 'breathtakingly beautiful man' 'he looks like a young god'. She later describes ' his sleek body' in detail. Infact at no point in this book are we presented with any evidence that she was 'in love', instead we are left with the impression that this is a holiday romance gone horribly wrong (eventually) and that she is obsessive and to be honest, a bit of a bunny-boiler. The GREATLY over-used description of her Masai as 'my darling' on almost every page left me wanting to extract my own eye balls, on more than one occaision and physically shout at Ms Hofman to 'WAKE UP AND GET A GRIP YOU SILLY WOMAN'.
I could not feel sympathy for her at any point in the book. Towards its end, there is a chapter which details her becoming very unwell and needing a significant stay in hospital for liver problems. She is warned not to eat meat as it will make her ill again but 'sneaks afew pieces' when her Masai comes to visit her and brings her a roasted goat leg. It makes her ill, resulting in a doctor screaming at her that if she didn't want to get better why is she in hospital in the first place. It is another example of her making a bad decision based on emotion rather than common sense. The best bit of this book comes when the doctor screams at her for being so stupid, a feeling echoed by myself for the entire book.
I would recommend this book as it is truely interesting, however it is not a book of one womans bravery, of following her heart and love. It is a story of an impressionable woman following her sex drive and making a life style choice based upon her labido and thats OK as we all make good and bad decisions in life. However the marketing of this book made me expect alot more inspiration and 'depth' from its pages, from this book which is apparently ' steeped in humanity' and a tale Hofman's bravery. Instead I was left with the feeling that I had been somewhat mislead and this is the story of a silly woman who made a rather silly choice.
A memoir set in Kenya that will evoke a strong response in the reader.
That is probably a bit of a daring thing to say, I feel, but it is one of the few books I have read where I have experienced a medley of emotions, and judging by reviews across the internet I am not alone.
Corinne Hofmann from Biel in Switzerland travels to Kenya with her then boyfriend Marco. Within a few hours travelling to Mombasa she has spotted Lketinga, a Masai warrior in full regalia, and responds to him as though struck by lightening. She is in awe of his sheer presence. Marco, her boyfriend no longer makes the cut and she parts from him fairly promptly, as she now only has eyes for ‘her warrier’. She seeks him out at every opportunity, which almost becomes obsessional and stalkerish; she seems to know that this man is going to be the love of her life. She returns to her home in Switzerland and sells up her successful clothing store, planning her trip back to Africa. Never mind that she and Lketinga don’t have a language in common, and that the cultures are utterly polarised. She takes several months to sort her affairs in Europe, whilst listening to indigenous music, which maintains her link to Kenya.
Finally she decamps to find him, and together they make a life, first in Mombasa and then in faraway Barsaloi, his home. Here they live in a traditional home, a manyatta, a simple hut. Water has to be collected, cooking and chai are cooked on a small brazier. There are many cultural differences that leave the author rather surprised and at times angry and upset. She seems to have done little research about what it might mean to live amongst the Samburu people on a daily basis. And this is what makes the memoir such a gripping read. Corinne seems genuinely taken aback by many of the situations in which she finds herself, but love is her driver, and at first seems to conquer all (yes, that feels so cheesy, but her innocent yet focussed conviction seem to drive her onwards, despite hurdles, cultural differences, dirt, pestilence, lack of transport infrastructure, and Omo which is used for washing everything, from clothes to people).
What is love, one may ask? In this memoir it is the couple connection from her to him, but it is unclear how he feels about her. She goes about wooing him with a certainty that borders on the narcissistic – he is part of her plan and that plan will be executed at all costs. She approaches her new life with a naivety that is, frankly, shocking: simple research might have thrown up that kissing for the Masai people is contemptible. She is upset when she learns that men can neither eat with women, nor eat meat touched by a woman; that the sexes may only drink tea together; and that she and her daughter are expected to undergo a clitoridectomy. She smartly manages to side-step the latter.
Much of what she describes is her response to, at times, catastrophic situations in her new world. She can sometimes bleat on about her difficult situation, and she does spend a huge amount of time crying and suppressing her anger. She puts herself through an inordinate amount of suffering which feels at some unconscious level quite self destructive – whether arduous and neck breaking journeys through the jungle and bush, or dealing with miscommunication and violence. She then contracts malaria and hepatitis, yet still battles on. It is the, at times, deranged determination to make a go of her new situation that left me vacillating between pity, empathy for the delusional belief that things will work out, and finally exasperation. Gradually, as the domestic violence increases, her resolve disintegrates. It is a sad situation.
The writing is curious to say the least. It is clearly written from the heart, easy to read, yet could do with a little refining. It became extremely irritating that she described Lketinga as ‘my warrior’ or ‘my darling’, as though frequent use of either term could somehow bind him to her more. And exclamation marks were used like a scattergun to underline some very difficult encounters. But Peter Millar’s translation was good and made it very readable (we first became acquainted with him when we reviewed his travelogue set in Cuba: Slow Train to Guantanamo).
So, if you want a gripping read that will get your emotions churning, then take a chance on this book. You will come away having learned so much about Masai traditions and life in Kenya!
on 8 December 2010
As a Kenya lover I found this a fascinating read, and I'll confess to having read it all in one go. However I found the author naive, unlikeable, arrogant and out for what she wanted whilst rail roading anyone who stood in her way. I felt sorry for her Samburu husband who was dragged from the known and familiar to take on a way of being prescribed by Ms Hoffmann. No wonder he popped. Her lack of cultural awareness was staggering, as was her inability to learn Maa despite the number of years she was immersed in a Samburu community. Did she even learn Swahili when she was on the coast? You have to make allowances for the translation, which is cringe worthy at times.
on 6 November 2006
In the age of reality TV shows and the search for 'authentic experience' Corinne Hofmann's story is probably the ultimate in terms of an individual's determination to transport themselves to and survive in an alien culture.
Except that it didn't start out as an anthropological experiment or a book writing opportunity that would sell millions and lead to a film. While on holiday, she fell in love at first sight with a 'handsome Masaai warrior' and such was the profound nature of her obsession that she ditched her boyfriend to be with him at any costs and married him because a casual, holiday affair wouldn't have satisfied her. Romantic in an old-fashioned way, she was apparently content to be with him wherever he lived and this involved giving up her wealthy lifestyle in Swizerland for a hut made of cow pats and mud for a year living with him and his mother.
Soon afterwards, she becomes something of a cash cow in the village, buying a Land Rover, essential for mobility in the bush and bringng medicines from her homeland, which are naturally siezed upon. Later she sets up a village shop which fulfills a vital social need.
Although she barely survives malaria,(which nearly kills her) malnourishment and non-existent hygiene, incredibly she and her warrior have a child and encounter serious problems when she learns that warriors are jealous by nature and reluctant to allow their women any independence.
She says at the end of the novel that there is 'something wrong with his head'. What she seems unable to grasp is that they both inhabited different worlds and the potential for conflict was too great. They both got married without knowing each other and the culture into which they had come from.
One can't help feeling sorry for her husband. He made what he thought was a lifelong commitment; his wife had an escape route if things didn't work out. How long would she have survived in this world if she hadn't had her Swiss bank account to survive on, relatives to send money from home and a place to escape to when things got rough? Strangely, contrary to Masaai tradition, he refuses to take another wife, even when things get rough and his jealousy becomes a sickness which clouds his judgement and affects relations with his wife. Only then does the romance lose its gilt edge, ironically when she thinks she has survived the worst.
In a direct style, which makes use of the present tense to give it an immediacy, she relates some experiences which must have been challenging to say the least.
Ms Hofmann has written a compelling account, but at the end of it you feel like the Kenyan officials who stare at her in amazement when she announces that she wants to marry a Masaai.They cannot conceive of marriage between a modern, white woman and a primitive warrior and their fears-even if they are born of prejudice- are proved right. The cultural chasm is too large to bridge.
One is left pondering how the next act of her life unfolded, whether she settled down in 'civilization' and what happened when she returned to her village, the subject of her latest book, 'Return to Bursaloi.'
In "The White Masai", Corinne Hofmann recounts her story of holidaying in Kenya where she falls head over heals in love with a Masai warrior. Despite the enormous cultural gulf between them, not be mention the lack of a common language, Hofmann, a middle-class Swiss boutique owner, gives up western life, western comfort and western wealth to rejoin her Masai warrior and live his way of life.
The story engenders little sympathy for Hofmann, despite the enormous, and at times life-threatening, challenges she encounters. The lasting impression is one of a naive white women who thinks that her wealth and education, coupled with an all-consuming love for another human, will overcome all eventualities. While one has to admire her tenacity, there is a sense from the very start that the whole adventure is doomed to failure. Hofmann seems to accept the physical hardships of life in a Masai village with admirable disregard. In contrast, her almost total refusal to compromise towards, at times even to acknowledge, the strong social traditions which dominate the life of the Masai, seems cavalier.
The White Masai's strength does not lie in originality: there is little here to distinguish Hofmann's story from those of others who have gone native only to abandon the experiment. The little it offers terms of insight and analysis of the Masai culture or way of life is tantalising but ultimately disappointing and leaves one wishing for more. Hofmann has, surprisingly and disappointingly, decided to share little of her impressions of Kenya more generally. This is a practical book with no airs or graces.
The writing style is journalistic - always punchy and to the point - but lacks the finesse that might have created a more evocative experience for readers. Occasional inconsistencies in the story line are distracting, although it is hard to determine whether these are the result of Hofmann's "stream of consciousness" style, or poor translation from the German in which the book was originally written.
These faults are however quite insignificant in comparison to the pleasure that Hofmann's free and frank style and engaging story engenders. I enjoyed reading The White Masai. It is a brutally honest, vivid, adventure story, infused with romance and humanity. Written with great pace, one seems to move from Mombassa, to Nairobi, to Kenya's rural villages, with an ironic ease given the difficulties that Corinne, her warriors and sundry others encounter on such trips.
on 5 July 2010
I found the writer, Corinne Hofmann, completely self-obsessed and ignorant to the reality of the situation around her.By the time she has sold up in Switzerland her Masai has shown no real interest in her whatsoever but again she chooses to ignore this-even though she's heard nothing from him for months!She practically hijacks him-how can he say no to her wealth?
Although she is a thoroughly unsympathetic character the book is worth reading for the very interesting cultural differences.