Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Peter Millar’

Africa, My Passion

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 2nd March, 2014

Corinne Hofmann and PriscillaAfrica My PassionAbout 15 years ago, the German-born writer Corinne Hofmann enjoyed a huge success with an account of her headlong romance, marriage and then break-up with a dashing Samburu warrior in Kenya, The White Masai, which sold over four million copies worldwide. It captured the imagination of many whose own lives are rather humdrum, as well as providing an enjoyable read for European tourists heading for East Africa. It was followed by three other volumes of African memoirs, the last of which, Africa, My Passion, has now appeared in an English edition (translated from the German by Peter Millar), published by Arcadia Books (£12.99). In a sense the book is another love-song, only this time towards a continent rather than to a particular man and his environment. Not all the action is in Kenya this time, as the first part of the story relates a trek through some of the beautiful desert of Namibia (formerly German South West Africa). A middle section sees the narrator visiting various small-scale but successful development projects, ranging from vegetable growing in bags in the huge Nairobi slum, Kibera, to a football team for reformed gang-members. But most readers will enjoy most the third section of the book, which recounts Hofmann’s return to the Samburu lands, to introduce her 20-year-old daughter — who she has raised in Switzerland — to her father. There is no attempt at any full reconciliation (besides, her ex-husband now has a third wife and other children), but the meetings go well with him and her mother-in-law, who was a key figure in her Kenyan experience. And down on the coast south of Mombasa, she manages to track down her old friend, the Masai market-seller Priscilla [picture left]. But as Hofmann says in a postscript, for her a lot of the attraction of Africa is its otherness, its complete contrast to clean, solid, ordered Switzerland, “the intangible, the immovable, the unpredictable, the chaos, the animals, the sheer wildness that is Africa’s alone.”

Link: http://arcadiabooks.co.uk

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1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th September, 2009

Peter Millar book coverAs the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, the bookshops are filling up with commemorative and interpretative volumes. One of the most welcome is Peter Millar’s 1989 The Berlin Wall: My Part in Its Downfall (Arcadia Books, £11.99), which will be launched at the Frontline Club in London on 1 October. Peter followed me from Oxford into Reuters at the news agency’s old Fleet Street offices and then as the baby in the set-up in the International Press Centre in Brussels, though he lasted longer than I did. I resigned while still in Brussels when I received my first book contract  (for The Great Wall of China), whereas he went on to work for Reuters in East Berlin and then Moscow, before moving over to the Sunday Telegraph and then the Sunday Times.

We didn’t meet up in East Berlin when he was posted there, though I was going in and out of the place frequently at the time, visiting Quakers and other people involved in what became the Swords into Ploughshares movement which was the forerunner of civil unrest that would eventually see the edifice of DDR authority collapse like a house of cards. By the time 1989 came round, I was at Bush House as a sort of ‘rest of the world’ commentator for the BBC World Service and at times rather envied those who could concentrate on the disintegration of European communism. I did go to Berlin again shortly after the Wall came down, however. Rather than  bringing back a chunk of that graffiti-daubed monument, I bought a very fetching Soviet sailor´s cap for US$1 from a tipsy Russian instead.

Peter Millar’s book — whose title is a deliberate nod of homage to the late, great Spike Milligan — is full of telling anecdote and seamlessly blends autobiography with historical reportage. There are a few go0od laughs, but much of the tale is suitably serious. There was indeed euphoria on the night of 9 November 1989, as the Wall was breached — I shed a tear of joy myself, watching the scenes on TV at home in London — but there was anguish too. Peter was able to smile wrily at some details he later discovered in his Stasi files. But for many of my friends and colleagues, what they then found out about the system they had been forced to live under for so many years was in many cases even more traumatising than what they had imagined.

Link: www.arcadiabooks.co.uk

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