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Louise Mae Hoffmann
7 Hours to Sofia: challenges and discoveries of a Peace Corps Volunteer, Louise Mae HoffmannHoffmann makes a powerful point in this book about democracy. Bulgarians struggle to come to terms with their own freedom. After retiring from her career directing a college library, and serving as president of the New Mexico Library Association, she decides to volunteer for the PEACE CORPS. The book tells the story of her tour of duty. Along the way, Hoffmann established a new public library in the city where she was teaching. She travels by train to many Bulgarian towns and cities. She visits the countries near Bulgaria with many friends, and shares letters from and to family members and friends in the U.S. She shares 24 wonderful Bulgarian recipes, which she prepared for students and friends who came to visit. The book reveals people and places we know very little about. Hoffmann is richer for her experiences in the Peace Corps and so are her readers.
Pacific Book ReviewAs a sixty-five year old Peace Corps Volunteer, Louise Mae Hoffmann doesn’t really know what to expect from her time overseas. However, with her children grown and an extensive career under her belt, she felt as if it was the right time for her to follow her childhood dream.
In her novel, “7 Hours to Sofia,” Hoffmann offers readers a totally uncensored account of her time as a Peace Corps volunteer. The novel is a combination of diary entries, her candid narration, as well as transcribed letters to and from various correspondents. She recounts, her struggles learning a foreign language and alphabet, describes the native dishes she learned to cook and details everyday life in a Bulgarian town. Hoffmann is at all times totally honest in her writing. She details the good, or her UP list, and the ugly, her DOWN list. Some things, such as meeting new and interesting people are UP, while challenges including trying for two days to receive a package from the mail are DOWN.
This level of detail is also Hoffmann’s hamartia. Much of the information is irrelevant; for example, on the drive to her first Peace Corps orientation meeting, Hoffmann describes where she stopped for the night and what she had for dinner. While her memory is impressive, these details don’t feed into the actual story and do little to enhance the readers’ experience. Likewise, the letters she includes from her children are of debatable importance. At this stage in the novel, Hoffmann is battling the loneliness of living on a different continent from her loved ones, surrounded by a language she is only just learning to speak. The letters from her children and friends back home also refer to that loneliness felt by all. At the same time, however, reading about her daughter going to the movies and watering her garden in Boston really adds to the feelings of being removed from her family rather than making her happy to hear the details of their lives, far away.
Many of the small details about life in Bulgaria really are fascinating, and show what kind of culture shock Hoffmann had to acclimate to during her time in a foreign country. For instance, Hoffmann wrote, “The clothes were weighed and are bought by the pound” – as she describes her challenges finding affordable clothing, especially jean pants, while in Bulgaria.
“7 Hours to Sofia” is an interesting and honest account of one volunteer’s time in the Peace Corps. Any person interested in pursuing this dream would do well to read Hoffmann’s novel, as her totally uncensored account is at all times honest and very often entertaining as well. It is obvious Hoffmann’s incredible attention to detail and her passion for her work provided the underlying foundation to her becoming an author.
Overall, “7 Hours to Sofia” is an experience readers can learn about vicariously from the comfort of their own home, and determine if such a bold career change is right for them. With the fluent and factual wealth of wisdom apparent in Hoffmann’s mind, I would be on the lookout for future novels from this talented author.