One of the books I was recommended to read about South Africa was Rian Malan’s well-known and widely-read My Traitor’s Heart. If Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country is a literary classic about the problems behind apartheid, and if J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace depicts the hopelessness and passivity of some in South Africa today, Rian Malan’s book puts both of these sketches into graphic realities.
If I had to recommend one book about South Africa — and recommended it to reading types who want to think through the implications of apartheid — this book would be it. Stunning, depressing, real, graphic. The final chps of this book on Neil and Creina Alcock, who lived among the Zulu, is a gripping story that embodies the whole book — but so do most of the stories in this book.
Anyone read this book? Any responses?
The Malan family, Rian’s forbears, has been part of most of South Africa’s modern history; hence, Malan means complicity in apartheid. Rian, as a young man, disagreed with apartheid but did not want to stick it out — so he came to the USA. While here he decided to write about apartheid; then he returned home only to let that book morph into what can only be called a series of living, realistic sketches of crime in South Africa.
If anything surprised us the most about South Africa, it was the living reality of crime in that country. It was not uncommon to see homes with fences and razor wire or even electronic lines of protection. One man pulled up his pant leg to reveal a handgun strapped to his ankle. Another man told me his daughter had called him one evening to say she slept with knife under her pillow.
It doesn’t matter to me how it is all explained, and one needs to factor in a number of elements, Rian Malan is a journalist who has focused his energies on crime and injustices in post-apartheid South Africa. The book sobers; it stuns; it reminds one of what lies deep in the heart of the heart throughout the world: fear of the other, white fear of black and black fear of white. Probably no country on planet earth dramatizes that story more than South Africa.