Review: Memoirs of a Venture Novelist
A Scholar, an Activist and Adventurer
Memoirs of a Venture Novelist Charla M. Burnet 280 pp
Reviewed by Nvasekie N. Konneh
To write a memoir is a brave act. It simply means to bare your soul to the world. To lay it all out there about you, your family and friends, some of your inner most secrets.
If you decide to write a memoir, you will be confronted with question about which part of your life experiences to be exposed in a book or which part to leave out. Are you only going to focus on the bright spots that will make everyone proud of you or will you include parts of your life experiences that you are not so proud of yet still have to include as a matter of honesty and full disclosure?
Whatever you decide to do, you may want to keep it 100% honest. The downside to that could be exposing yourself to people’s judgment. Well, I guess the feeling will be that if you were brave enough to include it in the book you are simply telling the world that you are ready for whatever, good or bad judgment. In that regard you may say, “If you are a family member, colleague, mentor or a friend, you might want to turn back now. This is not going to be easy to read. You might never look at me the same way again.”
With that said, meet Charla Burnett, a young woman from the Midwest. Coming from what she calls “trailer park” in Michigan, where young women and young men don’t dream big because of grinding poverty which leads to chronic drinking problems and prostitution, one may consider her as a success story from such an environment. She is one of those who, despite the rough terrain of their upbringing, is very determined to be successful in a place where success stories may not be in abundance. Just like Malcolm X said that education is our passport to the future, Charla might have set her goal as such as she pursued her goal of academic and professional success and accomplishment.
Charla is a survivor of traumatic life experiences. They have made her a huge sympathizer with people everywhere who are at the bottom of societies. Call her an activist, call her a scholar, or call her an adventurer. She has traveled to some of the world’s glamorous places, in addition to those enduring major challenges, such as my own country, Liberia. Her book, “Memoirs of a Venture Novelist,” subtitled “One Woman’s Guide to Travel, Sex, and Culture,” captures her journey and her battle of righteousness in her own little ways, or as we say in Liberia, in her own little corner.
Perhaps, for people who don’t know her, they will discover her strength and determination through the pages of this book. While I will recommend it for people everywhere in the world, I will especially recommend it for my fellow Liberians and the people of Palestine, Israel, Southeast Asia, Europe, and Barbuda in the Caribbean. Whether we are big name celebrities or ordinary people who are only known by our friends, families and coworkers, traveling gives us the ability to be able to bring our own unique understanding to places we travel to for any number of reasons, some of which could be for work, scholarly research or simply adventurous pleasure seeking trips such as vacations to places far and near.
For those of us who have lived through the wars in war-torn countries, we have seen many NGOs with both their expatriates and local employees. Those from Europe or America, especially when they are White, some Africans assume all come from paradise where there is no human suffering. Reading Charla’s book will make you understand the experience and stories of some of those who go yo “help” Africans
through the nonprofit organizations. Whether they spend a month or three or the whole year, they will leave with their own impression of the places they went to and the people they interacted with. If you ever wonder what impression they leave with about our countries and the myriad of issues, then indeed it must be interesting to know. Some of these expatriate employees may write about their experiences in the form of reports to the organizations they work for. Some, like Charla Burnett, write the memoirs of their experiences in those places.
Charla’s journey took her first to the City of Light, Paris, France, on a student exchange program. That was her first trip outside of the U.S. Then she went to Liberia as a research intern, and on to Israel and Palestine and the Caribbean Island of Antigua and Barbuda. While these may have been research-oriented journeys in pursuit of academic and professional career, the trip to Southeast Asia was for personal fulfillment. That trip would have been a honeymoon if one of her relationships had evolved into holy matrimony. With the prospect of marriage out the window, she went on a solo trip which she still calls a “honeymoon.”
Charla considers herself a “small town girl.” Accordingly, for people living in small towns, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world, you often hear people describing such experiences as having “nothing to do but sex and drugs.” Many of us who have experienced life in small towns can relate to that aspect of small town living minus the drug use or drug abuse.
Writing about her parents in the small town of Charlotte, Michigan, she recalls, “when they were 16 and 17, they decided that they had nothing better to do than have a baby.” That baby was the author of the book I am now writing about, and one you may be interested in reading.
As glamorous as life seems to be in the world’s greatest country, the U.S.A., in the rural towns there are limited opportunities and many are not born with silver spoons in their mouths. Charla was born in a broken home but that has not stopped her from pursuing her dreams as a scholar, activist and adventurer. Her book represents her pain and triumph over the difficulties. A determined mind can never fail, no matter how long the journey may take.
In Paris, when she engaged in conversations about the role the U.S. plays as a global super power, Charla was challenged by some people who seemed to know more about her country than she. Given America’s global impact, many people around the world religiously follow everything happening in the U.S.
While many people are fascinated by America’s great economic and cultural success—including its pop culture—others are abhor U.S. foreign policy.
She met an Ivorian immigrant, who was a stripper in order to support herself and her family in the Ivory Coast. The source of this immigrant’s money may not be morally right to some people; who cares if that is the only way she is able to earn money to support herself and her family? There is a saying that you can’t and should not judge people until you walk in their shoes.
As part of her internship program, she opted to study “post conflict development in Liberia,” instead of traveling to Cameroon or Macedonia.
She was encouraged to choose Liberia by students from there she knew through college. While in Liberia in 2014, she found the non-profit sector to be “notoriously corrupt.” This is what she says of the president of then president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf: “The Ministry of Finance provides no transparency or accountability. Billions of dollars come through their door, but I see very little going to the average Liberians.”
She thinks whoever the “current minister of finance should be held accountable” but she expresses her skepticism as to whether the donor community really cares about what was going on with the money given to countries recovering from war.
She talks about the stark contradiction between expensive cars on the streets while surrounded by abject poverty. Despite all the post-conflict hardship in the country, she found Liberians to be “very friendly people.” While in Liberia, she did not only confine herself in Monrovia, she ventured outside the capital and visited the Ivorian refugee camps around the Guinean and Ivorian borders. She was able to have both the urban and rural experiences in Liberia to include in her research project on post-conflict development and progress.
After returning to the U.S., Charla’s next journey took her to another global hot spot, Israel and Palestine. She was a program support assistant with the UN Relief and Work Program (URWA). On the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, she finds it “so complex” to the point where she “felt powerless to help anyone.” Reflecting further on the conflict, she said, “conflict cannot be solved with good intention; that violence does not end and that anger begets more anger and as such, one has to focus on what he or she can manage.”
About the author: Nvasekie Konneh is a nine year veteran of the US Navy. He’s a Liberian writer and author of the collections of poetry, “Going to War for America,” The Love of Liberty Brought Us Together, and “The Land of My Father’s Birth,.” the memoir of the Liberian civil war. He can be reached at [email protected], [email protected] or (267) 826-3952.