Top critical review
The White Masai
on 13 February 2015
I initially picked this book up due to an interest in reading about other cultures. This seemed like just the thing; someone with knowledge of both western and Masai culture telling the ultimate tale of becoming immersed in another culture for life. Except it wasn’t.
I became concerned early on when Corinne recounts how, on holiday in Kenya with her boyfriend, she is immediately struck by the good looks of a Masai warrior. From that moment she feels compelled to engineer meetings, pursue him wherever he goes, and tell her boyfriend in no uncertain terms that it’s over. Her boyfriend thinks she’s not acting like herself, and I have to say I agreed with him. She bullies him into going places where she thinks she might by chance encounter “my Masai” again, and treats him with very little regard, and by the end of the holiday decides that she’s going to sell her life in Switzerland to come and live and be with Lketinga. This despite them not sharing a language at all, and the author herself admitting “I have no idea if I’m even remotely attractive to him.”
To be honest I kept reading out of morbid curiosity. The author makes it out to be some sort of epic love she feels for this man, but it’s not, it’s just lust – her dreamy musings about him revolve around his appearance, there’s nothing deeper she knows about him that she can point to as a reason for love. During the months back in Switzerland whilst she sorts out selling everything she owns, she claims to “get hold of everything I can find about the country” but it seems doubtful that she did thorough research given the deep misunderstandings she later makes about Lketinga and the customs of his people, and for some reason she spends the time learning English instead of the Samburu language, or even Swahili. She gets nervous as her departure date gets closer, but talks herself out of her doubts with this horrifying line: “And then my resolve steels itself again, and I am as convinced as ever that this man is all I need to be happy.”
I expected the author to have spent a considerable amount of time living with and volunteering to work with the tribe before meeting a man and a relationship developing, having a good understanding of the culture and at least a passable smattering of the language. I definitely did not expect this. The author approaches the relationship in the worst possible way, mistaking lust for love, plunging in without finding out about the life, the culture, or indeed the man himself, and sacrificing everything for this man she barely knows whilst convincing herself that her happiness depends entirely upon him. I have to say the author was breathtakingly foolish. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well. I must admit I found it difficult to sympathise especially when the author so recklessly and obsessively pursued this man whilst hardly bothering at all to get to know the other people in the community or to learn more of the language and the culture of these people.
Of the writing style, the best I can say is that it is competent and functional. It lacks creative flair, and didn’t grip me, but it’s passable. It felt tedious at times simply due to the repetitive grinding toil that author recounts week on week; I lost count of the number of journeys she had to make in her car to the nearest village to get supplies during which the car broke down yet again. And yet, I have to admit, I did finish the book cover to cover, due to this sense of morbid fascination with the disaster unfolding.