Der Traum vom Leben


The dream of life: An African odyssey

Klaus Brinkbäumer:
Der Traum vom Leben:
Eine afrikanische Odyssee
Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2006
286 S.
ISBN 3-10-005103-3

In September 2005, when thousands of African migrants tried to storm the barbed wire fences around the Spanish enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta and were violently pushed back by Military and Police into the Moroccan desert, the journalist Klaus Brinkbäumer researched the background of these events for the Spiegel. What he discovered motivated him to learn more about these tragedies that still take place in front of the entrance to "Fort Europe". Reports of stranded or shipwrecked refugee boats on the Spanish coast, at Lampedusa, Malta or the Canary Islands, reports about corpses drifting to the shores of those that did not make it have now become everyday occurrences. Nevertheless, there are no indications that the attempts by Africans to reach the supposed paradise of Europe are flagging.

How despondent must one be, wonders Brinkbäumer, to leave one's homeland, one's family and children and to incur such exertions and risks. He wanted to get to the bottom of these questions. He rejected his original idea to accompany refugees on their long and hard journey from West Africa through the Sahara to the Spanish enclaves so as not to influence the situation by the presence of European journalists. Instead of this, he reconstructed the nearly five year long refugee experience of the Ghanaian John Ampan along with the photographer, Markus Matzel, and together all three of them retraced Ampan's steps on the long and difficult journey from Ghana through the Sahara to the Spanish coast.

Ingrid Laurien, 2008
Translated by Catherine du Toit


    Klaus Brinkbäumer:
    Der Traum vom Leben: Eine afrikanische Odysee
    (The dream of life: An African odyssey)

    The report of this real life journey is not only exciting to read. It brings the reader close to the people and their problems, without attempting to offer a solution where simple solutions are simply not available. Brinkbäumer approaches the people he meets on their level, without the arrogance of a European who always knows better. This approach makes the portrayal of the difficult living conditions that Africans all over the continent have to cope with intensely vivid. One very real question is constantly in the background: Would WE be able to live like this? Just taking every day life: A room of ten square metres shared with seven family members, a nail in the wall for a clothes hanger, a filthy shower for eighty people and no hope for improvement. No, we could not bear this and suddenly the wish for a better life, somewhere else, becomes palpable, comprehensible. It is not those who have become apathetic because of their misery but the most active and courageous from all backgrounds that dare to make their way to Europe – without really knowing what lies ahead. The supposed paradise of Europe all too often reveals itself as a nightmare of illegality, forced prostitution, cold and rejection and the way there is hard and often fatal.

    John Ampan is one of the few that has apparently made it. Now he is responsible for boat refugees in Algeciras. He has found a job and with it a livelihood but his life's dream has not yet been fulfilled. Neither in Europe nor in Ghana does he feel at home. He has not seen his family, whom he sends money every month, for fourteen years. The idea of a reunion in Ghana is embarrassing rather than joyous. Such is the story of an African family.

    The itinerary through the Sahara has had its permanent stop-overs for a long time, where acts that would be criminal elsewhere are considered as services. A kind of particular culture has developed with its own hierarchies and organised camps and, above all, a sure source of income for smugglers and slave traffickers.

    Europe's drive to fend off refugees from the South is massive and not free from hypocrisy. "Without migrant workers that ask no questions, the production of fruit and vegetables in the Almeria region with its three annual harvests and a total of 35 000 hectares of tunnels would not have been possible." And would Europe be viable in the long term without migrants that already make up 89% of its population growth?

    Brinkbäumer is not naïve. He also understands that influx without quotas and regulations would not be possible but he demands "a migration policy without double standards. Instead of spending billions on warding off migrants, the reasons for migration should be addressed."

    "Der Traum vom Leben" is an excellently researched book, which offers many facts and figures. It has nevertheless become an intense, emotional and condemning book, written with empathy but without sentimentality. The author has risked much in order to write it, also on a personal level. The book is certainly not comfortable reading material. Opoku Agyema, who did not make it, has the following message for Europeans: "Our problem is your problem. It is everyone’s problem, a problem of humankind. […] The world is running off its rocker and you Europeans want to gain time so that you can preserve your life as it is for as long as possible."

    Of the many books on Africa that appear every year on German bookshelves, very few succeed in avoiding the clichés of a romantic dream continent on the one hand and a continent of misery on the other hand. Klaus Brinkbäumer's report is one of the few really good African books that sets out hard realities without remaining indifferent.

    Ingrid Laurien, 2008
    Translated by Catherine du Toit


    Das Parlament - Das politische Buch   deutsch

    Interview with Klaus Brinkbäumer

    Deutschlandradio   deutsch

    Links and reading tips on the theme of migration from Africa

    Klaus Brinkbäumer/ Fischer-Verlag   deutsch

    The Fischer publishing house’s web page on the book with author interview and extracts

    Perlentaucher - Kulturmagazin   deutsch

    Collection of various reviews of the book