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We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation
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We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  569 ratings  ·  129 reviews
In the vein of the podcast Serial, a gripping investigation of an iconic murder case that calls into question the accepted narrative that has come to exemplify the process of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa

The story of Amy Biehl is well known in South Africa: After the twenty-six-year-old white American Fulbright scholar was brutally murdered on August 25, 1993, d
Hardcover, 448 pages
Published June 28th 2016 by Spiegel & Grau (first published June 21st 2016)
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Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley
We Are Not Such Things is a really interesting book. Justine Van der Leun is an American who moved to South Africa a few years ago with her South African born husband. She wasn't sure what to do with herself, so she set out to write a book about Amy Biehl, who was a young white American Fulbright scholar killed in South Africa during an uprising toward the end of Apartheid. The unusual thing about Biehl's death is that her parents publicly forgave four men implicated in Amy's killing and created ...more
Jun 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
I wish that I could give this more than one star but I really did not enjoy it. I was suckered in by the blurb’s comparison to the Serial podcast, but while Serial was a masterpiece of storytelling, this book was a flabby meandering mess.

We Are Not Such Things is supposedly an investigation into the 1993 murder of Amy Biehl, a young white American Fulbright Scholar studying in South Africa in a time of social and political upheaval. Biehl was beaten to death in Gugulethu township outside Cape T
Amy Biehl, an American Fulbright scholar attending university in Cape Town, South Africa, was set upon by an angry mob and brutally murdered on August 25, 1993, in the waning days of apartheid. Four young men were sentenced to prison for her death but two were later granted forgiveness for their crimes by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission under President Mandela. Amy's parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, attended the proceedings and were entirely in agreement, feeling the best way to honor Amy ...more
We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation by Justine van der Leun is a 2016 Spiegel & Grau publication. I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read true crime on occasion, but I probably would not have selected this book without a little prodding, and the marketing ploy that suggested that this book was 'in the vein of' the podcast, “Serial”.

Apr 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
Amy Bielh was a white anti-apartheid activist who was brutally killed by a group of blacks in an South African township. Men were arrested, convicted and jailed for the crime. Years later with the help of the "Truth and Reconciliation Commission" the convicted confessed to their crimes and received amnesty. Remarkably the Biehls forgave the killers, started a foundation, and even employed some of the men.

Enter Justine van der Leun who decides to write a book about the incident 20 years later. Th
Sep 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
What did I think of this book? Hmmm - good question. It is very interesting and full of the story of a particular time in the history of South Africa told from a point of view rarely given light. The author begins with a quest to answer questions about the beating and murder of a young, idealist white women by a gang of young black men in the township of Guguletha. The young woman's parents and her supposed killers took part in the Reconciliation project of Mandela, Tutu and others. But the auth ...more
Jun 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing

This honest review is in response to an ARC given to me by NetGalley.

I find it hard to sum up "We Are Not Such Things." This story is one writer's exploration of what actually happened to Amy Biehl, an American student who was killed in 1993 in South Africa as part of a worked-up mob action. The book extensively features the author's first-hand (and often, hard-fought) interviews many participants and their families.

But this book is far, far more than that. It is not a search for a humanity, bu
Jul 25, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: africa
Like the author, I am married to a white South African, and I've spent a good bit of time in the country as well. Van der Leun can write very well, and she piercingly describes the contrast between the townships and informal settlements and the gilded neighborhoods of Cape Town. This is one of the most dissonant aspects of life in SA: the first world smashing up against the third. And she also highlights the slippery nature of truth and reconciliation in a country that remains so divided and une ...more
May 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, nonfiction, own
4.5 stars

I belong to the Newest Literary Fiction Goodreads group, and our monthly buddy reads are usually (you guessed it) new lit fic. For July, however, our moderator challenged us to read as many non-fiction books from our TBR lists as we could find room for. Although at last count I had 97 non-fiction books waiting to be read, I had been moving them to the bottom of my list; they sounded interesting, but, really, reading non-fiction is too much work. I don't want to have to learn anything du
Penny Schmuecker
Jun 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It is hard to believe that it has been 22 years since the end of apartheid in South Africa. As often happens, the passage of time often lessens the intensity of things: As we get farther and farther away from a situation, we forget how outraged we were or the extreme happiness we felt. Most people probably have not even heard of Amy Biehl. While her tragic murder was headline news at the time, her name surfaces fewer and fewer times and in the larger picture, apartheid is talked about less and l ...more
Jul 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley-books
In 1993 Amy Biehl drove into a South African Township around the time of the dissolution of Apartheid. Her death at that moment became a media target for how the new South Africa politics would work and what constitutes politically motivated violence. The author discovered this story after moving to Cape Town with her fiancé and realizing that while numerous articles had followed the story, a book had never been written. She then threw herself into the research and made close acquaintance with m ...more
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to netgalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

I don't really know how to review this book. I picked it up not knowing very much about South Africa and apartheid. I finished it with a much better understanding of the harm apartheid continues to reap to this country.

This is one of the most engrossing books I have ever read. Justine spent many years researching Amy Biel's murder. She befriended everyone involved even peripherally in the crime. She reviewed every
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Jun 28, 2016 rated it it was amazing
We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun is a very highly recommended account of the story behind the headline. During the last days of apartheid, on August 25, 1993, Amy Biehl, a 26 year old white American Fullbright scholar, women's rights advocate, and anti-apartheid activist, was murdered by a mob in Cape Town, South Africa. Four young black men were convicted for the crime.

South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation program was put in place four years later - once apartheid was officiall
I recently spent a week in South Africa, and found myself wanting a little more insight into the country. I was familiar with Mandela and Tutu and had even studied the post-apartheid Truth & Reconciliation Commission briefly, but those are all high-level, international-scale perspectives. I wanted something more personal.

What I found was this book. When I stumbled onto it, I knew nothing about Amy Biehl, a white American activist who was brutally murdered in South Africa in 1993. Her parents
Angel Hatfield
Jul 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Easy had been part of a mob twenty years earlier that had hunted down a young white American girl. He hurled jagged bricks at her and stabbed at her while she begged for her life. She died that day and her name was Amy Behliel and she was twenty six years old. The man’s name was Easy and he got eighteen years in prison . He said at the time his spirit said kill the white. Amy had been two black students a ride when she was pulled from her car.There were three other men who admitted to going in o ...more
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
This is a really interesting read and I'm so impressed with how deeply the author goes in to research and interview for this story. I feel like I really got a glimpse into not only the issue at hand (the murder) but also what it's like to live in South Africa, a country I really know so little about. Fascinating all-around. My only negative comment is that I wish there were photos to go along with the story. One of the reasons I like non-fic reading is to connect real life images with the story. ...more
Jul 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I received this book from Good Reads.

Non-fiction, excellent, well researched factual history of a murder which happened in South Africa during apartheid. The author writes what she knows, as a South African. This murder was a HUGE deal here in the US because the victim was a recent Stanford grad.

Reads like a fiction book, with lots of turns and ironic twists. Fascinating history of that evil known as "apartheid."
Rhonda Lomazow
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Amy A young American volunteering in South Africa is murdered there by three young men ,a murdered that shocked the world.when the men are arrested they ask for forgiveness.Amys parents Americans are amazing people rare people who have forgiveness in their heart.The book this story her family the murderes each with their own story will shock surprise &keep you turning the pages.
J David
Jun 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is a chilling story of murder and racism in South Africa. A tour-de-force. A stunning journalistic look at the injustices that sadly prevail. I was captivated by both the story and the prose. It is a great read of a sad story. I highly recommend this book.
Sep 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
"What did I do? I'm sorry." -- A dying Amy Biehl to one of her attackers

I remember the terrible, senseless mob murder of Amy Biehl in South Africa in 1993 like it happened yesterday. It was heartbreaking in its needlessness: the bad luck and coincidences that led her to drive into the township where she was killed; the fact that she was due to move back to the United States in just a few days; the sad irony of her being a committed anti-apartheid activist. But more than that, it also hit a littl
Feb 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In most cases, journalists investigate crimes and historical events in order to clarify them, to sum them up into neat, cohesive narratives with no loose ends, where everyone's individual role is clearly understood and what's left is more or less the final word on what happened. Which is what makes We Are Not Such Things so interesting. Essentially, what van der Leun does here is the exact opposite. She de-clarifies events, dismantles the narrative and leaves any understanding of events in chaos ...more
May 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
I received this ebook for free from NetGalley for review. I am not obligated to post a positive review nor has my review been influenced in any way by NetGalley. I am just obligated to alert the reader. Consider yourself alerted.

There is a story in South Africa that is held up by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission-

In the last days of apartheid, a young white woman helping orphans by the name of Amy Biehl is brutally murdered in a crowd of African liberation fighters outside of Cape Town. He
Angus McKeogh
Feb 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Really tough one to rate. It was an interesting story but went on far too long. I never lost interest in the story but was also willing to set it aside for other things regularly. The writing was good but didn't keep me coming back regularly. Tangents abounded. Curiosity was indulged. But the book was far too easy to put aside. And it should never have taken me nearly a year to read it. So certainly not terrible, but then again, not amazing.
May 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: netgalley
Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. This is an interesting story of an investigation into the death of Amy Biehl in South Africa in 1993. The premise had me hooked with its comparison to the Serial podcast and it did have some similarities, but I didn't find it as gripping as I found that story. Like many non-fiction investigation books, it didn't have the ending I was hoping for and it was very long, so I felt a bit deflated when I finished. But since the bo ...more
Allen Patterson
Apr 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing
So, I recently won this book from the Goodreads Givaway. Really enjoyed it.
Just the subtitle reels you in. Lots of twists and turns. Great read, especially for those who may be ignorant of apartheid and the lingering aftermath of it in South Africa.
Jul 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reading
This book was not an easy story to read. I believe that it was also not an easy story to write. Ms. Van Der Leun spent four years of her life chasing down and detailing the story of how Amy Biehl a white American woman, a human rights researcher and Fulbright scholar was murdered one hot, dusty violent day in August 1993 in South Africa in the waning days of apartheid. Four men were tried and convicted of her murder. This is also their story and the story of South Africa.

It is the story of apar
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A powerful and troubling story. This will stay with me for a long time. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a fascinating and complicated subject, and it took tremendous effort even if it fell short in certain ways.
I'm also reminded of this quote from Trevor Noah: "Apartheid in South Africa was brutally honest. There was no beating around the bush. They told us what the system was about. They were proud of what the system had put in place. And the goal of that system was to keep black pe
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I won't spoil what Justine van der Leun discovers in her search for what actually happened in Guguletu, I do think I can say that the truth feels ephemeral throughout the book. It made me wonder to what extent we can ever know a place, particularly one where we are a transplant, a non-local. Like the author, I'm also an expat in South Africa, and this is a place that feels so layered with competing narratives, you can feel dizzy trying to parse what can be called the truth. "We Are Not Suc ...more
Jun 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A tremendous amount of research went into writing this book. I applaud the author for her diligence and seeking out the truth. I learned a great deal about South Africa, it's politics, and apartheid. I hope we have seen some permanent change since Mandela's reign.
Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
In the first chapter of this remarkable book, van der Leun describes the arc of the story that she set out to tell. It starts in 1993 with Amy Biehl (she's a white American Fulbright scholar in Cape Town) and her death at the hands of an angry mob in a black township. Four young men were eventually convicted for her murder and sent to prison. Five years later, they were released as part of the Truth and Reconciliation process after Mandela was elected. Amy's parents established a foundation in h ...more
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