White Masai Corinne HofmannIn “The White Masai”, Corinne Hofmann recounts her story of holidaying in Kenya where she falls head over heels 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 re-join 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, she comes over as arrogant. 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, is 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 irritating and 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.

Read and reviewed 2005

(c) Jessica Mulley 2005, 2014