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Somebody's Heart Is Burning: A Woman Wanderer in Africa

3.68  ·  Rating details ·  256 ratings  ·  34 reviews
“It's my life, and if I want to run from it I can,” quips Tanya Shaffer. An incorrigible wanderer, Shaffer has a habit of fleeing domesticity for the joys and rigors of the open road. This time her destination is Ghana, and what results is a transformative year spent roaming the African continent. Eager to transcend the limitations of tourism, Shaffer works as a volunteer, ...more
Paperback, 336 pages
Published May 13th 2003 by Vintage (first published May 1st 2003)
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3.68  · 
Rating details
 ·  256 ratings  ·  34 reviews

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Apr 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
What separates this book from most travel writing is that Shaffer unwittingly exposes the real breakdown of intl development. I don't know that Shaffer understands that her experience is not really hers; it is the entire story of development projects in developing nations. Were there a section on critical analysis of international humanitarian projects, this would be the companion book to the text. Hers is a story that should be heard and understood when creating assumptions about problems and s ...more
Jul 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
I stated this book two years ago and put it down one day only to pick it back up today. I was supposed to finish it today. Someone's heart is burning- are not all of our hearts a fire in one way or another???? There was a moment in the book where she says "How could I explain my strange life to him? How could I tell yet another person here with everything that had been given to me, I was still restless and unsatisfied? That I felt driven to wander the earth in search of some elusive key that wou ...more
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
Somebody's Heart Is Burning is the memoir of a white American woman who spent a year in Africa, fleeing confusion over a relationship. ("It's my life, and if I want to run from it, I can," she asserts from the first page.) She begins as a work-camp volunteer in Ghana, and then visits Mali and East Africa as a tourist. I went into this book assuming I'd hate the narrator - given her circumstances for traveling, I figured she'd have a bit of an ego and would spend too much time implying that she i ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Aug 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
How long have I had this book sitting on my shelf? Months? Years, even?

Somebody's Heart is Burning is a memoir of the author's time in Africa. She has the usual African travel adventures---run ins with con artists, a bout of sickness, transportation difficulties. All the while, she's thinking about the fellow she left at home. But not enough to actually go home. And she really isn't having a great time in Africa. In addition to her African travel troubles, she has trouble getting along with the
Aug 21, 2010 rated it liked it
The first paragraph (something about going to Africa to escape a boyfriend) led me to expect 300-pages of navel gazing. Happily, that wasn't the case (for the most part). This collection of short stories, fluidly told, follows a loose chronological order. At its best, we follow her unique experiences with Africans from all walks of life (rich, poor, urban, rural). She conveys their stories with a sharp, lively voice and makes some meaningful insights (with some clichés tossed in here and there). ...more
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is actually one of my favorite travel writings, if you want to call it that. There is quite a strong social justice and multicultural flavor to this book, along with recognizably foreign encounters, so how could I not like it??

I also like the way Tanya wears her heart on her sleeve, so some of the content is pretty emotionally raw.

In some ways, her experiences were therapeutic, I suppose. I couldn't really identify with that, but it was interesting. Personally, travel like hers seems like a
Kojo Douglas
Feb 02, 2019 rated it did not like it
Just so, so bad. I’ve been living in Ghana on and off for 15 years and this book just reveals a total lack of “getting it.” I was surprised that I was able to actually finish this.
Ashley Lauren
Jun 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you've seen my bookshelves you would know I'm a fan of memoirs - my favorites are either those who have experiences war, usually WWII, or women travelers. Don't bother trying to analyze that one.

Shaffer's memoir seemed very familiar. If you've ever read Incognito Street: How Travel Made Me a Writer, Nothing to Declare: Memoirs of a Woman Traveling Alone, or even Eat, Pray, Love (even though I mostly detest that book) you'll see the similarities. The driving force in these stories was a man ba
Jul 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book has an excellent structure, each chapter a different story about a different place, people/person or experience. This is the first memoir that I have come across that included photographs. When I read memoirs I tend to idealize a little and the photographs kept me grounded in the reality of the story in a way I haven't experienced before. I wish more memoirs had pictures! I thought that Tanya Shaffer did an amazing job writing about her experiences volunteering in Ghana and west Africa ...more
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Twenty years ago, this woman wanderer decided to wrestle with her personal relationship from a distance, from a far corner on this earth, namely Ghana, West Africa where she became a volunteer to build hospitals and schools. Though her year in Ghana gave her time to sort through that relationship, she didn't devote this entire book to her personal life. Fortunately for us, the readers, her main focus in this book was the incredibly unique and special relationships she developed with the many peo ...more
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: south-africa
not south africa, rather west (Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, then east to Indian ocean, but...) series of short vignettes of author's experiences slumming it and also working and helping and making many friends, some enemies, and lots of acquaintances in her peregrinations in africa. though she tries to synthesize west meets east, and international devel meets underdeveled that part falls short. the good parts are her bravery at meeting and trying to get to know regular folks, her willingness to da ...more
Jul 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
The woman in this book has a wanderlust like none I've ever seen. She does lot of things that I would be afraid to do, like her crazy boat trip to Timbuktu. In some ways she is frustrating becasue she runs away from life to travel whenever things get difficult. But the book mostly concentrates on her travels, not why she left for them. Entertaining and interesting and gives a very balanced view of the countries in Africa that she visits, and touches on her struggles in seeing so much poverty aro ...more
Apr 17, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: liked
A lovely, lyrical little book that accurately spills the gut-wrenching moments travel can create. Shaffer describes the lives of African travelers and African natives without complaint, without dramatizing the conditions and with an almost loving reverie for the involuntary reverie of their lifestyles. Sadly, the author's note at the end points out that her trip, taken in the early 90s, was pre-AIDS epidemic. She hints that now she would find a very different scene before her.
Feb 16, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a book about a woman who decides to explore West Africa after she runs away from love. It tells of her various friendships with other travellers and Africans, gives a bit of color about whites who decide to go work in Africa and talks about what she sees and experiences as she travels throughout the region.
Rhonda Sarantis
Apr 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I wasn't sure I would enjoy this book. I was afraid the writer would be a whiner.. Whenever someone escapes the continent to volunteer I'm suspect! But this woman has a good heart and shared stories about the people she met in Africa with warmth and respect. She learned some important life lessons that I learned from, too.
Feb 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Hanako, Julia
I picked up this book while I was in Mexico and was hooked from the very first sentence. I liked the author's voice and could related to her on so many levels. Emotionally, historically and geographically. I only wish I'd had a book to leave at the "give one, take one" library where I found it, because I would have loved to take it with me.
Karen Morgan
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book drew me in because the character descriptions intrigued me. In the end I wished for a little more personal insight from the author but enjoyed the experience of reading it anyway. Travel always results in personal growth for me so I'm usually curious to know if it has the same results for others and if so, what did they learn from the process.
Jun 14, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although this could be considered to be just another memoir, I enjoyed the wit and humor of Shaffer's stories in Africa. And I appreciated her willingness to address issues of privlege that doesn't often get looked at as a traveler.
Aug 07, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
This book paints a vivid picture of traveling in Western Africa without romanticizing or vilifying its people and culture. However, the book felt a little self-indulgent at times. Still recommended for anyone who enjoys the travel genre or wants to learn more about Africa.
Feb 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: woman travellers
This book is for all the girls who love to wander around alone and see what they'll find in the big wide world. She does a great job of balancing the romantic nature of travel and the reality of what you can find and what you leave behind.
Apr 02, 2009 rated it liked it
A somewhat boringly self-centered book about a woman's travels in Africa. Not that writing about one's travels isn't usually self-centered. More that the author was immature and the voice she used was a bit irritating.
Aug 21, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I'm a sucker for travel memoirs, and this one didn't disappoint. Her experiences during her one year stay in Africa were fascinating and beautifully told.
Nov 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa
Volunteer for a year in West Africa -- Very good. Evokes Africa.
Chris Looney
Dec 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoirs
3.5 stars
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa, travel
The author might mean well. She wants to show us how a trip to Africa changed her. But she seems so unaware and self-absorbed from the outset that it's not very convincing.
Nov 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
loved this book! i think i actually read it all in one sitting. i just could not stop turning pages.
Jul 25, 2010 rated it liked it
The author has some interesting encounters while travelling in Africa and describes them well. Unfortunately, she also describes her own relationship issues in more detail than I needed to hear.
Loved this book -- great stories!
Feb 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Just what I would expect Gillian to recommend. ;-) Book about all of us who are always looking for something more and aren't sure why.
Liza Schreiner
Jan 24, 2011 rated it liked it
Reading this while in Ghana was a fabulous experience. It really encouraged me to make a difference while I was there, and reminded me of how important it was to volunteer, and to remember.
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