Sometimes the most riveting stories don’t need to be pieces of pure fictional fabrication populated by imaginary characters. In 2008, heart-attack and breast-cancer survivor Karen Baldwin decided to leave her San Francisco life behind and spend three months in a rural village in South Africa teaching English at a local elementary school. Her life changing experience as the first white teacher among the Zulu 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, she was 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 gender discrimination set insurmountable barriers on the way to freedom and social 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. Last August 2012, in fact, the New Mexico author became the first Ambassador for the Rural Women’s Movement of South Africa and will attend the UN Commission on the Status of Women hearing in the Spring 2013.
The Verdict: Ruby’s World is 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.
Release Date: November 15, 2011
Publisher: Apocryphile Press
Author: Karen Baldwin