Karen Baldwin's masterful memoir reads like a suspense thriller as this resolute American woman of "a certain age" journeys alone to South Africa to teach Zulu children. There she encounters a stunning resistance to change from those who invited her. Baldwin's writing is candid, taut and relentless, as waves of cultural tension build to an unforeseen crisis that tests her courage and strength. -Phaedra Greenwood, Award Winning Journalist Karen Baldwin, through raw, honest, and vibrant writing, shares her journey to teach children in South Africa. Her good intentions are met by strong traditions and a real Africa-not an illusion or romanticized world-where nothing is wasted and there is little personal space. Baldwin's journey reveals the similarities in Zulu and American families' joys, pain, deception and love. -Dr. Andrea M. Heckman, PhD, Cultural Anthropologist, University of New Mexico An extraordinary story, beautifully told. Baldwin's account of her adventure in Africa is honest, moving, frequently funny, sometimes startling, and always compelling. This is a journey of faith, and it carries the reader along every twist and turn in that journey with remarkable clarity and grace. -Sean Murphy, Author, The Time of New Weather
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
What can you say about a memoir that touches you so deeply that you can't stop thinking about it? Such is this memoir by Karen Baldwin. Before reading this book, I knew very little about modern-day South Africa. I used to work with a teacher who came out of the apartheid, but of course, that is all in the past, right? I invite you to read the book to find out! Kudos to the author for capturing the Zulu people and their culture so well. I kept saying that she had to take copious notes in order to share so much detail. I have been on a missions trip to the country of Yemen, but I was in a "Western compound" so culture shock was no big deal. I was horrified and mesmerized as I read this book that is raw with emotion and real life. I will warn you. There are adult topics and some profanity (but not much). There are religious issues that will probably shock you and may even offend you. But you cannot get away from this fact--it is real. If you want to know how things really are in South Africa (or at least how they were back in 2008--I honestly doubt it has changed much)from an outsider's eyewitness viewpoint, this is the book for you. As another side note, I have to say that reading this book when I did was perfect timing. I completed it the day after the 2012 presidential election was decided. I can't tell you how often I found myself so grateful to be an American. We may not have a perfect country, but we have worked on our democracy for over 200 years, and I wouldn't wish to build my life anywhere else! I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I was not financially compensated in any way, and all opinions are 100 percent mine.
OUTSTANDING! "My hope of making a big difference may have been naive. Not trying would have been worse." What a terrific book! Knowing that there are people like Karen Baldwin in this world warmed my heart...reading about the incredible challenges she had to face in her attempt to bring hope and relief to the children of a small rural village in South Africa broke my heart and had me in tears...learning to which extent her life had been in danger and how close the threats were the entire time she spent in Zinti, made my blood run cold...understanding how stubbornly some cultures resist and fear change simply disheartening...having faith that some day these cultures will embrace the change and keep working toward that goal, very hard but necessary. Sometimes the most riveting stories don't need to be pieces of pure fictional fabrication populated by imaginary characters. In 2008 Karen Baldwin, heart-attack and breast-cancer survivor, decided to leave her San Francisco life behind and spend three months in a South African rural village, teaching English at a local elementary school. Her life changing experience as the first white teacher among the Zulus started as a humanitarian dream but ended up as a nightmare, unexpectedly and at the hands of the same people who had warmly welcomed and hosted her. Only few weeks after her arrival in the rural village of Zinti, in fact, her journey came dramatically to an end, turning out to be completely different from what she had anticipated. Karen's struggle with language barriers, her sense of dislocation and isolation, the environmental and cultural hostility, even the abominable "social practices" (infants scarification, female genital mutilation, black magic) that played in front of her candid outsider eyes, didn't prevent her from bonding with her host (Ruby) and her family: "As a guest in their culture I'm committed to being an observer, not a critic." But Karen felt absolutely powerless and deflated in front of the most fundamental differences between Ruby's world and the fortunate and privileged condition we get to enjoy as citizens of a western democracy: for us it's easier to bridge the gap between the way things are and the way we want them to be. In the African continent, so often considered the "womb" of the human race, thick layers of ancient traditions, cultural prejudices and discriminations set insurmountable barriers on the way to freedom and justice. I was deeply touched by this outstanding account of Karen Baldwin's true life experience in the heart of traditional Africa. In the form of a daily journal, her well-paced and fluid narration opens a window on the ongoing tragedy of a continent torn between taboos, gender inequities, power struggles and shifting loyalties. Not only Karen's memoirs put in a new perspective our own starry-eyed views in matter of human rights and democratic society, they also teach that with bitterness and tragedy comes the powerful seed of hope. A real jaw dropper...a work of fiction couldn't have been written with more soul and deeper emotional intensity. Thought-provoking, suspenseful, engaging at all times, this excellent book was effortlessly well-paced and executed with a captivating and vibrant writing style. Highly recommended.