The Color of the Elephant

Memoir of a Muzungu

Non-Fiction - Memoir
284 Pages
Reviewed on 12/05/2022
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Author Biography

Christine Herbert is a part-time writer, part-time bodyworker, and full-time space cadet currently living in the Pacific Northwest. A dyed-in-the-wool introvert, she occasionally surprises everyone—especially herself—by chucking it all and living an adventurous life of service overseas, once as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia and later as a manager for a non-profit organization in Nepal. When not adventuring off to distant lands, she can be found holed up in her matchbox-sized apartment surrounded by a multitude of storybooks and wheels of cheese.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Lexie Fox for Readers' Favorite

The Color of the Elephant: Memoir of a Muzungu is the new autobiographical work from Christine Herbert. Covering several years of the author's life spent in the Peace Corps, the book shares her experiences of working in healthcare and education in Zambia. Covering a broad spectrum of anecdotes and incidents during her time in the country, the book uses an unusual present-tense method of storytelling to explore the many memories made during a deeply meaningful adventure out in the world. It is an approach that constantly challenges the reader to appreciate the small, taken-for-granted things that they enjoy in their lives.

This was a deeply engaging memoir that was brought to life not just by the candid attitude of the author being willing to share every part of her experiences, but also by the accessible and human way that Christine Herbert has of talking about them. It’s a masterstroke in a memoir such as this, which seeks to describe events very few of us will ever encounter in such a charming manner. No reader is left behind as The Color of the Elephant details every step of the author’s two-year journey to do her part in helping the people of Zambia. As the journey proceeds, the frankness with which the author discusses her mistakes and hardships creates an emotional investment in the reader that is only one small step away from physically having been there with her. An essential read for people interested in emotionally appealing and colorful memoirs.

T.P. Warren

Oh wow…I don’t even know what to say except…wow. I am in awe of what the author went through, her bravery, her resilience, and even her flaws. We’re given a look into her journey that is so vivid and well-written, that we seem to be experiencing everything along with her. I love that she didn’t sugar coat the bad. I could feel every raw emotion she felt. It was amazing to watch as she stumbled through an unfamiliar world and grew and learned so much. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, sometimes a little too ‘real’ but always fascinating, this story will stay with you long after you’ve finished.

John Sullivan

This book blew me away for its candor, marvelous expression and humanity.

Mike Nixon

The Color of the Elephant is a well-written and honest memoir. It’s easy to read, and provides much insight into Zambia’s culture and Christine’s experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Great story! Don’t miss this one!

Stephen Warres

A wonderful, genuine account---it brought back my own (much less arduous) Peace Corps of 55 years ago. As Ms. Herbert says, once you have served, it becomes the turning point: there's life before and life after Peace Corps. Peace Corps is the fulcrum, no matter how far off it was. Ms. Herbert's book captures the magic of the experience.

Rebecca Mae Zornow

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in southern Africa so the stories in this book really brought back a lot of memories. I think it'd be a great read for anyone, but especially people curious about Peace Corps, RPVCs, and anyone interested in Zambian culture.

Donna Lora

Inspiring story! Loved this book. It was well written and engaging. I will be loaning it out to my friends as I think the story is very inspiring and important. It is filled with humor and pathos and a great deal of insight I highly recommend it.

Vivian Rodeffer

A Peace Corps Memoir that fascinates and educates and deepens understanding. The author's memories and deep lessons learned are shared in an inviting and often humorous way. My only complaint? Her memoir ended far too soon. I am looking forward to what occurs next in her life.

Tracy Albert

I was drawn into this compelling tale from the very first page. While storytelling in the most engaging way, the author conveyed a tremendous amount of information about the lives of the citizens of Zambia. I could visualize the mud huts, the clothing, the cooking, the traditions, and even almost hear the beautiful cadence of the language. I feel as if I visited, oh so briefly.

The author is wry and witty and laugh-out-loud funny, but also brings you to tears. The book is full of personal insights that spoke to me and encouraged me to think about myself in different ways. I loved following along with her on this adventure, and wish I could "travel" with her again.

Finally, the adventure! Crocodiles, snakes, malaria, wildfire, a haunted lake, and even painted cows. You'll need to read the book to learn more about those! Loved every page. Highly recommend.

Tiffiny Rich

Riveting! This was such a wonderful read! I admit, I was a little skeptical going in because I’m not usually a fan of memoirs, but this was a riveting tale about her journey in the Peace Corps! I had no idea the Peace Corps did all of those things, and it really shed a light on what all it really entailed.

Mary E Hanley

The book is like going on a tour to a culture I've never been to with a really magnanimous guide. You’ll need that as you experience life in a mud hut in a remote village in Zambia, where luxury is a moldy couch or a broken radio. She doesn’t sugar coat life of a Peace Corp volunteer was like -- malaria and AIDS are common, transportation of more than a few miles is almost insurmountable, and poverty is everywhere, all-encompassing. At times “Color of the Elephant” is hysterical funny; at times it is overwhelmingly sad. Above all else you get to love the people, who in spite of their horrific circumstances are amazingly happy and good natured.

Shelly L. Francis

Laugh out loud funny and heartfelt! The Color of the Elephant gave me insights into the daily life of a Peace Corps volunteer, in the midst of the daily village life in Zambia circa 2004-2006. I laughed out loud so many times at the author’s willingness to poke fun at her own foibles and missteps. I felt awe at her courage to approach her time there as a humble learner of language and customs, how she expected it to be really hard, especially how she admitted it “fully met” those expectations. If I were a Peace Corps volunteer, I’d want to go with Christine. Or I’d be asking myself, “What would Christine do?” I'm recommending this to my book group friends and family.

C. T. Chadsey

Christine Herbert’s The Color of an Elephant is a terrific read! The other reviewers have said it well. Herbert’s writing draws you in to so many rich moments of her experience in remote villages in Zambia as a Peace Corps volunteer. With courage, curiosity, self-awareness and a killer sense of humor, she put me into that distant and different world in way few writers can do. I cannot wait for her next book!

Sammy Leopold

This book is absolutely fantastic! Christie Herbert's account of her Peace Corps experience is riveting. I had no idea what being in the Peace Corps entailed but now I know, both the rewards and the struggles. She paints a vivid picture of Zambia, its residents, customs and the underbelly. I cannot recommend this book enough to anyone with an interest in learning about other cultures. I got so lost in it I was actually late coming back from a lunch break once! I started to set an alarm on my watch because I would get so engrossed in this book!

AE Brown

So much personal and universal truth in this memoir told by someone who "walked the talk." You hear, see, smell, taste, touch the heart of Zambia, told through a Peace Corps volunteer's most intimate self-discovery. Dance in the aisle of a local church, bargain with the malaria gods, tuck an injured owl in the crook of your elbow, and burn your lips on steaming corn nshima. As much fun to read out loud as it is to curl up and read on one's own.

Aurika C.

“A good sense of humor is going to serve you well out here. It’s a critical survival skill and you’ll need it more than anything you will learn in that lecture hall”.

Herbert writes a refreshingly honest, humble, and humorous perspective of a privileged white woman from the US who impulsively decides to make a difference by joining the Peace Corps and spending two years in a small village in Zambia. The memoir is chronological, but more like a series of scenes, rather than a blow by blow diary. This structure makes it entertaining and allows her to emphasize the truly interesting parts of her experience and emotional development.

“I didn’t count on having nothing to sit on for two years.
What a cushy life I’ve led. Really cushy. With cushions. [] It’s just as well that I prefer the ground because that’s a woman’s place anyway. Stools are for men.”

From a purely informational context, Herbert’s depiction and contrast of culture is enlightening and thought provoking, especially when comparing attitudes towards time, travel, customs of and between genders, and (individual and institutional) bureaucracy and corruption. But there is more meat to this dish. She takes the reader on an emotional journey, unabashedly revealing her vulnerabilities and faults, leaving us wondering about how we might have dealt with similar situations.

I, for one, have a new idea for what to do when my neighbor’s cows, er, I mean dogs, come onto my property and dig up my garden beds…

Jade Goldschmidt

Adventure awaits! Grab a handful of sweeties and prepare yourself for an adventure with Ba Chri! It was a pleasure getting to know Zambia through her candid retelling of her Peace Corps experience.


FILLED with emotion. Eye opening book!!
Thank you for this journey into such an impactful part of your life. I’m doing PC Zambia in 2023 and although my experience will be different from yours, I enjoyed learning little things about Zambia to get me even more excited. Starting with the first chapters you picked some funny, scary, and love infused memories to share. By the end of the book I felt like i was feeling the same emotions as you. Loss of your life in Zambia, love of what you gained (and hopefully I will gain too) , and above all a recognition of everyone’s dignity and humanity. Everyone should read this even if not doing Peace Corps.

Stephanie B.

I felt like I went on an adventure!
This book was funny and well written.
I've taken my own journeys to find myself. This book brought a lot of memories back of the life lessons and the thoughts that pass through your mind when you are challenging yourself in another culture. It also encapsulated the sense of humor you have to have in these kinds of circumstances.
It was great to go on this adventure with Christine Herbert, especially because I had always wondered what Peace Corps life would be like. I feel like I learned interesting details about Zambia too.
A great armchair escape that also makes you think about differences in language, culture, and how you might have handled each situation that comes up if you were in Christine's shoes.

Michelle C.

Like the beauty of an early morning sunrise, this debut novel draws you in with each page. More so than ever before, these last 2 years of the pandemic have left me with an itch to travel, to get out, to DO something! This book gifted me all that and more.
This dear author held my hand and guided me on an amazing adventure. Introducing me to new places, new people and new customs with honesty and humor. A journey through her time in Zambia candidly sharing her mishaps and showing her vulnerability during loss and hardships. This is a book everyone should read and will want to read again & again. I eagerly await her next novel!

Alicia Mutch

Raw, honest, real, brutal & hilarious!
I was really struck by how much I feel like I've gotten to know Christine Herbert as a person as I've read this memoir. She is so humble and honest about her experience, yet so hilarious too! I find myself touched by her humanity and by her deep caring for the people she serves. We talk about white privilege in these days of being "woke," but Christine lived it in the days before "wokeness," and was able to really compare and contrast the world of white privilege with the stark reality of the impoverished people of Zambia. The book is an easy read, and I feel like I'm right there with Christine as she brings these incredible images of daily life as a Peace Corps member to written print. I feel like this book is a must read for anyone considering serving in the Peace Corps, as well as anyone who wants a taste of life in the wilds of Zambia.

Julie Charay

Having served as a PCV in Zambia, reading Herbert's book made me feel like I was re-living my own experience. The detailed account of her adventure brings the reader to a village in Zambia and what it is like to live within that community. Anyone looking to become a Peace Corps Volunteer or to immerse themselves in another culture should read this book for insight and understanding of what that future reality may hold.

Kimberly Ginkel

If you enjoy reading about different cultures, you have to try this delightful memoir. Zambia comes alive as she recounts her years in the Peace Corps with colorful detail, humor, and a deep respect for its people.

I was especially impressed with her honesty, even about her own gaffes. I know I could never have lasted 2 years myself - I'd have run home after the first bout of malaria, let alone the third - but I loved living it through her eyes.

This was a quick, fun read. I highly recommend it to anyone looking for something new and different.

Marilyn Kriete

I was delighted to receive an ARC of this memoir from the author in exchange for an honest review. Herbert has written a page-turner that drops us into the heart of Africa--Zambia, to be specific--as she grows from a novice, adventure-seeking Peace Corps volunteer to an unflappable hut-dweller, dealing bravely and humorously with the challenges, surprises, and misfortunes that come with her new home and assignment. I was under the impression that Peace Corps workers stick together and work in groups, but this was not the case for our plucky heroine. She's the only muzungu (white person) in her village, and the journey she takes is solo, with the help of new neighbors and other curious onlookers. Read this memoir, and I guarantee you'll fall in love with both the author and the dream of reinventing oneself through voluntary--and sometimes painful-- immersion in the completely unfamiliar. A fresh and original take on travel, adventure, and secular mission work. Highly recommended!

Cherie Kephart

Beautifully written, raw, and heartfelt, The Color of the Elephant showcases the profound joys and wild adventures of one Peace Corps Volunteer's service in Zambia. With vivid descriptions, honest emotions, and a vulnerability of great heights, Herbert delivers an unforgettable tale of what it's like to fulfill a dream and transform because of it. Just as being a PCV is not for the faint at heart, neither is her story. But both are incredibly worth it.

Elicia S.

The beginning catches you with its honesty and you get that honesty all the way through. There are ups and downs and in-betweens, but what I loved most was the ending. The author left me with a feeling of wanting to step outside of my comfort zone of individuality in order to find fulfillment by helping others in my community. Wanting to help make a difference one day at a time, in a variety of ways. An insightful memoir that I highly recommend.

Cindy B.

As someone who's always wondered about living and volunteering in a developing country, but never did, this book gave a great insight about what experiences could have been like and let me have the experience vicariously. Each chapter tells a story about the author's trials and triumphs as a Peace Corp volunteer in Zambia, vividly written so I felt like I was there experiencing the same emotions right along with her. I enjoyed every page and learned quite a bit about the Zambian culture as well.

Through the adventures of living in a mud hut, learning local languages, ordeals with insects and snakes, and just the challenges of moving around from town to town, as well as the triumphs of the good that she did as a dedicated and empathetic volunteer, the author really amazed and inspired me.

I highly recommend this as engaging memoir.

Daniel Palmer

A rich loving and human story filled with trials and joy. Carefully told so that it inspires laughter and tears. It is an important book to read for everyone who cares about humanity.

Sharon Serano

The debut novel of Christine Herbert illustrates her personal experiences as she joins the Peace Corps. She is sent to Zambia for 27 months, where she lives as the locals do i.e., reside in a grass and mud hut, learns and speaks the Bemba & Lamba languages, prepares nshima to eat, draws water daily, and helps the local orphanage and medical center. She is unapologetic in her candor, describing her wins and missteps during this time. You’ll cheer her on as she faces hardships from the environment, snakes, malaria, local bureaucracies, and men’s outdated expectations of women. Herbert’s beautiful writing deposits the reader along the journey in real-time. You’ll learn to experience living in the remote and beautiful African landscape. This book is worth keeping on your bookshelf to revisit and reread again and again.

Oriane Lee Johnston

Christine Herbert’s unflinching portrayal of herself in a younger time of life in Africa is a wonderful and refreshing read. Written from the inside out, she takes the reader into her lived personal experience, making only fleeting and humble reference to the projects and outcomes of her volunteer tenure with the Peace Corps in Zambia in the mid-2000s. Having lived solo in neighbouring Zimbabwe myself, though more recently and as an older woman, I was right with her in the dilemmas and delights of a muzungu finding her heart in an unfamiliar culture.

Being confronted with gut-wrenching poverty, finding oneself deferred to as a white woman (colonial hold-over) and ignorantly contravening village protocol can be shattering. All to the good, we find, as the author describes her North American, western, "first world" bias falling away as time goes by. Near the beginning of the book she envies the way a long-time volunteer easily speaks the local language, wears traditional garments, dances with children, and cooks over a fire in the village. And in the end, the author herself has come to be comfortable and adept in these ways of the community. She leaves them with the touching "Mushale bwino, muane. Remain here well, my respected friends."

Oriane Lee Johnston, author of The Geography of Belonging. A Love Story of Horses & Africa.