cover image SOMEBODY'S HEART IS BURNING: A Tale of a Woman Wanderer in Africa

SOMEBODY'S HEART IS BURNING: A Tale of a Woman Wanderer in Africa

Tanya Shaffer, . . Vintage, $13 (336pp) ISBN 978-1-4000-3259-4

Shaffer's vivid travel memoir captures scenes of Kenya, Mali and, most notably, Ghana, rarely seen by American tourists. Fleeing a marriage proposal from her boyfriend in California, Shaffer, a white 27-year-old upper-middle-class performance artist with progressive politics, decides to travel, choosing to participate in various volunteer efforts in order to spend more time and less money in Africa. Her tales are rich in visual and cultural explication; villages and hamlets too tiny for names come to hot, vibrant, scent-laden, insect-thrumming life as Shaffer depicts the dailiness of African culture and the struggle to subsist. The unrelenting heat, ubiquitous disease and economic chaos make Africans eager to leave. Unfortunately, racism and privilege underlie Shaffer's travelogue, and she does not fully address either. In one of the book's best chapters, Shaffer meets Nadhiri, a black separatist from Berkeley with whom she does a complex sociopolitical dance in which Nadhiri's prejudice is revealed, but Shaffer's own motives are not. Throughout, Shaffer notes the bigotry of Africans toward African-Americans, but never her possible own. Nor does she explore the reality of grinding African poverty in comparison to her own relatively immense privilege. Regrettably, no coda follows Shaffer's compelling memoir. In the end, Shaffer battles malaria, leaving readers caught in her febrile dreams of Africa and her California lover, wishing the author had deepened her reportage. Photos. Agent, Richard Parks. (May 13)

Forecast:Shaffer's memoir should appeal to off-the-beaten-track travelers and those studying racism and Africa. It received a pre-pub mention in Vogue and excerpts of it have appeared on and