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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

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Ever since Nelson Mandela dramatically walked out of prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years behind bars, South Africa has been undergoing a radical transformation. In one of the most miraculous events of the century, the oppressive system of apartheid was dismantled. Repressive laws mandating separation of the races were thrown out. The country, which had been carved into a crazy quilt that reserved the most prosperous areas for whites and the most desolate and backward for blacks, was reunited. The dreaded and dangerous security force, which for years had systematically tortured, spied upon, and harassed people of color and their white supporters, was dismantled. But how could this country--one of spectacular beauty and promise--come to terms with its ugly past? How could its people, whom the oppressive white government had pitted against one another, live side by side as friends and neighbors?

To begin the healing process, Nelson Mandela created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, headed by the renowned cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Established in 1995, the commission faced the awesome task of hearing the testimony of the victims of apartheid as well as the oppressors. Amnesty was granted to those who offered a full confession of any crimes associated with apartheid. Since the commission began its work, it has been the central player in a drama that has riveted the country. In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who has covered the work of the commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Mandela to former South African president P. W. Botha's extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.

Country of My Skull captures the complexity of the Truth Commission's work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog's powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog's profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.

423 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1998

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About the author

Antjie Krog

61 books71 followers
Krog grew up on a farm, attending primary and secondary school in Kroonstad. In 1973 she earned a BA (Hons) degree in English from the University of the Orange Free State, and an MA in Afrikaans from the University of Pretoria in 1976. With a teaching diploma from the University of South Africa (UNISA) she would lecture at a segregated teacher’s training college for black South Africans.

She is married to architect John Samuel and has four children: Andries, Susan, Philip, and Willem. In 2004 she joined the Arts faculty of the University of the Western Cape.

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5 stars
1,110 (39%)
4 stars
1,084 (38%)
3 stars
461 (16%)
2 stars
107 (3%)
1 star
56 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 224 reviews
Profile Image for T.J..
Author 1 book114 followers
July 12, 2008
I'm fascinated by this book.

Antjie Krog has written *the* book on the TRC, what it tried to do, what if failed to do, why it happened, and its impact on those involved regardless of gender, race, and national identity.

Krog's book is an uneven, rambling and not objective narrative by any means. She's roundabout, frustrating, tell-all, reserved, and contradictory in the extreme. Yet she knows she's a white Afrikaner woman writing a book on a multicultural, deeply emotional process, and she succeeds brilliantly in bringing the reader into the narrative while making the victims' stories an integral part of the story.

It's a masterful read, and oen that does drag under its own weight, but one that is absolutely essential to understand and comprehend the new South Africa, for all its good and bad parts.
Profile Image for Anu.
365 reviews885 followers
November 26, 2021
An Afrikaaner talking about how the TRC in South Africa affected her and her white family borders on apologia. Not to mention it reeks of the white saviour complex. That said, a start is a start, and there are some things that Krog says that actually do make sense.

However, it is also true that this is, in many ways, the seminal work on the TRC, and to a large extent, on post-Apartheid South Africa. I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and so the three stars. I could spend time arguing the banes of a truth commission, but that is a debate for another day.
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews711 followers
August 24, 2015
[mother identifying her dead son...] I asked them, "Show me the mark on his chin, then I will know it's my son." They showed me the mark on his chin, and I said: "It's not my son."
I've never taken an ethics course, but in my ignorant imagination of that field, I see an entire ethics course simply going through every last point this book raises. But it would probably have to span several semesters, maybe several years, because there's so much here to think about. Has there ever been a harder or more human task than the one the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to address? The one that Antjie Krog attempts to write about from the inside out? Every testimony, every question, every decision to forgive or not to forgive is wrapped in the messy details of painful personal and political histories. Of frailty, weakness, judgement. Very little here is cut and dry, though there are perpetrators and there are victims.
Will a Commission be sensitive to the word 'truth'? If its interest in truth is linked only to amnesty and compensation, then it will have chosen not truth, but justice. If it sees truth as the widest possible compilation of people's perceptions, stories, myths and experiences, it will have chosen to restore memory and foster a new humanity, and perhaps that is justice in its deepest sense.
Questions loom above the individual incidents, and the questions are not simply who was right and who was wrong. Questions such as--how does a nation heal? How do we reconcile when there is no ideal past to reconcile back to? How do we get past the bitterness? What is the purpose of a reconciliation commission? Will it become a witch hunt? Is it just a publicity stunt or will the truth come out? Is it truth we're after or justice and what's the difference? Does the larger goal matter, if it is a noble one, does it justify smaller cruelties? How does a journalist write about such events--or an artist? Should she stick to the facts, or insert her artistic license to bring out the truth behind the facts?
I hesitate at the word [“truth”], I am not used to using it. Even when I type it, it ends up as either turth or trth. I have never bedded that word in a poem. I prefer the word 'lie'. The moment the lie raises its head, I smell blood. Because it is there… where the truth is closest."
And that's not even going into racial and women's rights issues--which as you can imagine are both front and center as well.
Mthintso says a man who didn't break under torture was respected by the police. 'There was a sense of respect, where the torturers would even say – “He is a man.” But a woman's refusal to bow down would unleash the wrath of the torturers. Because in their own discourse a woman, a black meid, a kaffermeid at that, had no right to have the strength to withstand them.
Though the book could easily have turned into a mind-numbing litany of wrongs, and it would have been justified in doing so too, it wasn't. Antjie Krog goes above and beyond relaying testimonies, beyond the duties of an impartial un-biased fair-and-balanced journalist, into the territory of thinking, feeling, occasionally dead-wrong human-being. She wrestles with each idea, with each personal and national struggle in a chameleon-like display of writing that can at times be insightful, inspiring, poetic, analytic, emotional, political, historical, and even humorous--but always thinking and feeling deeply. What I really appreciated was that she did not disconnect from the pain, but faced it full on with all she had even though it was sometimes not enough. I appreciated that she was a white Afrikaner woman, that she was not some outside journalist, but someone highly invested and inside the process trying to work out the pain of her own nation.
It has to be this part of the country that turns us inside out, that renders us: bare lips. It has to be this region of fierce opposites—meadows & plains, waterfalls & dongas, ferns & aloes—that sparks from a speechless darkness the voices of the past. And at long last, flicking cigarette ash from our shoulders, we can weep in the certainty of this April; in the assurance of the testimony of fellow South Africans.
Profile Image for Catherine.
354 reviews
May 11, 2009
This is an utterly mesmerizing book - not only because of the events it describes, the history captured, the relationships transcribed, but also because of the prose. Krog does a magnificent job of meditating on the form and function of words - words exchanged in conversation, in testimony, in poetry, in official reports - and all while stretching the utility of each word she chooses for herself, to tell this particular story, of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission trying to heal a nation through speech.

So I sit around. Naturally and unnaturally without words. Stunned by the knowledge of the price people have paid for their words. If I write this, I exploit and betray. If I don't, I die. . . .

We tell stories so not to die of life. (pages 66 and 64)

Krog is white, which is a large part of why this book has sat on my bookshelf for almost a year. What could a white South African tell me about the Truth and Reconciliation process, I thought? Yet that was fantastically short-sighted. As Country of my Skull recounts, the divisions in South Africa are deeper and more plentiful than between black and white, even as there is an unassailable truth - almost all whites benefitted from the losses experienced by almost all blacks, be those losses legal, economic, cultural, or personal (including loss of life). One of the most fascinating elements of this book is Krog's own honest attempt to figure out where she stands as someone with Afrikaan heritage, who yet despised apartheid, who rejects the racism and patriarchy of the National Party and its adherents, whose family was (and to some extent still is) deeply privileged and racist, whose friend still believes, even amid the years of the Truth Commission's hearings, that her black maid doesn't miss her children who are forced to live elsewhere. Krog doesn't ask - thank god - to be viewed as any kind of victim; her struggles to understand her role in a new South Africa are honest and deeply self-aware; she readily admits what she doesn't understand, and where she discovers old privilege in herself that still must be rooted out.

But Krog does not let her own story overwhelm the substance of what she's trying to report. The vast majority of this book deals with testimony from victims of human rights abuses, white and black, and the hearings on amnesty conducted separately from the victims' testimony. It is flat out humbling to grasp even a little of what people have endured, to consider how good humans get at denying the humanity of another. The testimony is awe-inspiring, in the older, less jargony, less twenty-first century, first-world use of the words.

At the heart of this book is the concept of reconciliation - of how to move on after being victimized; of whether it's possible; of what circumstances allow forgiveness to flourish; of whether forgiveness is ever a necessary prerequisite for healing. As such, the book has much to say about the human condition in general, not only in war-torn countries fighting to define the meaning of their survival, but in individual hearts, as we consider what we inflict on each other, and what comes after that deep, abiding pain.
Profile Image for pam.
63 reviews
May 6, 2012
After reading this book I was shocked, horrified. Although I thought I knew about the ugly crimes committed in the 80's and 90's by both blacks and whites in South Africa, I was not prepared for the details of the horrendous acts of torture and murder which came to light in the testimonies of the victims. I can well understand why Antjie Krog, working as a journalist on a daily basis for over two years, felt physically sick and at times overwrought with anger bordering on hysteria.

This book is much more than a compilation of the gruesome testimonies before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. These are intertwined with a profound analysis of the reasons why such events occurred and the repercussions. In addition, there is a feeling of tension which never falls, as the reader is constantly confronted with new dramas. Many profound questions are deliberately raised, such as

Who is responsible for the shame and dishonor of apartheid? The politicians? The police?
Which perpetrators qualify for amnesty?
Should the ANC accept responsibility for crimes it committed or can it hide behind the notion of a "just war"?
How can a new sense of humanity be fostered?
Was the TRC ultimately a way of opening Pandora's box?
Why did so many perpetrators of brutal crimes feel no compassion for their victims?
Can justice be achieved by granting amnesty and compensating victims or is more required to achieve a deep sense of justice?
Why must perpetrators acknowledge the wrong they did?
How are people changed by apartheid? Is there such a thing as collective responsibility for the cultural context that existed under apartheid?
How do people become dehumanized? Why did blacks turn against blacks?
If pain initially destroys language, can language subsequently help you to capture a memory, to take control of it and liberate you from the tyranny of haunting memories?
Profile Image for Myriam V.
111 reviews41 followers
November 12, 2021
“Al indagar las secuelas del apartheid, la autora plantea valiosos interrogantes acerca de cómo expiar o remediar los crímenes de proporciones históricas cometidos durante el régimen; cómo perdonar y seguir adelante cuando, no sin justa razón, la indignación se apodera de los corazones”. Coetzee

Antjie Krog realizó la cobertura de la Comisión de la Verdad y la Reconciliación en Sudáfrica después del apharteid. Conocer los relatos de víctimas y torturadores la afectó en su vida personal. Al principio se resistió a escribir este libro pero luego buscó el estilo poético adecuado. No son simples transcripciones, hay combinaciones, sustracciones y adiciones de lo que escuchó y las resonancias que tuvieron en ella:

“Me importa la verdad… mi verdad. Por cierto, es una verdad que está hecha de cientos de historias que hemos vivido o escuchado en los últimos dos años. Desde mi punto de vista, modelada por mí, por mi estado de ánimo en el momento y ahora también por el público con el que comparto la historia.”

El resultado es una obra de gran valor histórico y literario. Son cientos de testimonios dolorosos que nos permiten acercarnos a estos conflictos. Es un libro que me resultó importante leer a pesar de su dureza.
Profile Image for Matt.
1,017 reviews663 followers
December 12, 2010

Morally brave, politically brave, aesthetically challenging, disturbingly detailed, passionately felt, exacting in its witness to outrage.

It was very tough getting through some of the parts that dealt first hand with the horrors of apartheid. I read it in class and I noticed that quite a few of the women in the class- hardy, intelligent souls, all- were really disturbed by the virulent sexism and brute, authorized sadism that was mostly gotten away with under a terrifying point in global history.

A couple friends of mine remarked, on separate occasions, that they had berated their boyfriends over domestic trifles after having read some of the more vivid parts. I don't blame them.

On a positive note: blessings on the earthy, gentle, noble, truly Christlike Desmond Tutu!
Profile Image for paula..
414 reviews143 followers
November 24, 2021
while i did enjoy some of the more objective parts, the testimonies that were written down, this book also reeks of guilt. the guilt is so obvious that it is prioritised when it is supposed to give a voice to the victims.

in class-discussions i found that there are different opinions on whether the personal took space away from the trc. i say yes, a lot of people said no. i don't care, i didn't like this book.

book 3 for my bearing witness: literature, memory, trauma module
Profile Image for Christie Mae Roberts .
18 reviews1 follower
February 24, 2018
It’s hard to capture my thoughts about this book succinctly - when my feelings are still so conflicted and I have so many questions.
As a South African, this is an important read, it forced me to look at parts of our history that were not taught in history classes. It is brutal, harrowing but also confusing. Not in how it is written (although sometimes the philosophical side bars were distracting) but rather because it challenges all of our notions of good vs. evil, victim vs. perpetrator, absolute truth vs. personal truth.
So while it doesn’t have definitive answers and solutions, no simple platitudes to allow one to easily digest and move on, it provides a starting point for engaging with the past, with identity and the still-relevant question of reparations
Profile Image for Kimberly.
174 reviews10 followers
April 21, 2008
As much as this was an important book for me and for anyone interested in the process of reconciliation to read, I struggled with the somewhat artistic or poetic presentation (which, I hate to say, just seemed kind of disorganized and hard to follow). I didn't appreciate the insertion of poetry into prose or, even worse, testimony, without any demarcation, and I was frustrated by long bits of dialogue without anything identifying who was speaking. It seems that there was a need for chapter breaks when there was no break, and her jumping around, which I suppose will be interesting because it's poetic and unconventional, really just made it hard to follow. Also, I believe that it would have helped that I had a more detailed understanding of key players and politics in S. Africa because the glossary in the back was not sufficient and I was conscience of my identity as an outsider.

But all of this aside, it was an impressive undertaking, to present the experience of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission from the author's perspective, that of a woman and an Afrikaner, which certainly gave great insight into racial dynamics, guilt, shame, and honor. If anything I take from this book an incredible appreciation for the difficulty of the reconciliation process, the fragile state of politics in post-Apartheid South Africa, and the gray moral areas created by the ANC as it made the transition from fighting to governing.

On a personal note, this book weighed heavily on my emotions during the time I was reading it, and I have to admit I was glad to have it done. It was hard to pick up and read the testimony, first-person accounts of rape, torture, and violent death. But at the same time, it needs to be remembered, and that's why people should read this book.
Profile Image for Erika B. (SOS BOOKS).
1,288 reviews131 followers
November 5, 2014
O South Africa...I'm so sorry. This book deals with the apartheid of South Africa and the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that was tasked with finding out the truth of what happened. Heads up that this is a highly graphic novel about torture that at times I had to put down and walk away from for a bit. It can be summed up with, "The victims ask the hardest of all the questions: How is it possible that the person I loved so much lit no spark of humanity in you?" Senzeni na...

because of you
this country no longer lies
between us but within

it breathes becalmed
after being wounded
in its wondrous throat

in the cradle of my skull
it sings, it ignites
my tongue, my inner ear, the cavity of heart
shudders toward the outline
new in soft intimate clicks and gutturals

of my soul the retina learns to expand
daily because by a thousand stories
I was scorched

a new skin.

I am changed forever. I want to say:
forgive me
forgive me
forgive me
You whom I have wronged, please
take me

with you.
Profile Image for Cole Ramirez.
323 reviews10 followers
June 7, 2019
The South African Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed in the mid nineties to collect testimonies from both victims and perpetrators of Apartheid. Antjie Krog, a South African radio reporter who covered the TRC, compiled testimonies, interviews, and her own personal thoughts and feelings together into a book that is part history, part memoir, and part poetic account of the South African government's attempt at reconciliation and forgiveness.

This was a difficult read for me. I think it was probably written with a South African reader in mind - or at least someone more familiar with the details, the major and minor players, and the notable events over the period of Apartheid. The discussion of some events seemed to assume a prior knowledge that I don't have and I struggled to keep track of some names. I had trouble distinguishing between good and bad characters, which I suppose speaks to one of the more devastating facts of Apartheid: there was no "good" side - all races, all political parties, all religions contributed in some way to the injustice.

There was also the emotional difficulty of reading the transcribed testimonies of torture and killing. The gross inhumanity of it all at times made me want to vomit.

The writing is unique and beautiful, in a way, and for someone coming to the book from a more educated standpoint, I think Country of My Skull could be incredible. For me, it was just a little too hard to follow.
Profile Image for Jason Yang.
104 reviews31 followers
July 29, 2011
Wow, what a powerful account of post-apartheid South Africa and the challenges of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

It is hard to read this book and not be stirred. The stories the author selected elicit strong emotions. The tragedies endured by normal civilians are heart-breaking. And the size of the task at hand - to give honors a chance at justice, to create a path toward reconciling both sides - almost impossible. It is hard to not feel a sense of despair.

One of the really powerful ideas I took away from this book was the importance of honor to traditional cultures. It's not something that the author focuses on only briefly, but it's something that has been on my mind a lot and something that I think is particularly relevant to people's responsiveness and open-ness to compromise. How does one rebuild a relationship when one is dishonored? How can one trust when the most basic aspects of life have been violated? Can this hand be played, or do we wait for a new generation to take our place?
Profile Image for Mk.
181 reviews
February 19, 2008
This book is a compilation of testimony from south Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The author is a famous Afrikaaner poet, and her voice is present throughout the book. Though the book tells the stories of those most harmed by Apartheid, you also get to hear Krog grapple with her own guilt and her struggle to move forward as an ally.

It is one of the most difficult books emotionally I've ever read; I could only read 10 pages or so at a time before it became too much to take. And yet, I needed to keep reading. To not do so would be to abandon the idea behind the TRC that pain must be discussed and brought into the open before it can be healed.

I would have a hard time telling someone to put themselves through the emotional turmoil this book creates, but if you are interested in understanding South Africa and the many layered pains of apartheid, it is key reading.

Profile Image for Ariana.
48 reviews2 followers
February 22, 2010
I really did not know many details about South Africa's post-Apartheid processes. This book was very difficult to read at times, given the verbatim testimony from both victims and perpetrators. I definitely learned a lot about the complexities of South African politics and the unpacking of black-white binaries and political alliances in that context. I also appreciated the author's very personal admissions and reactions, even when they were unfavorable.
157 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2019
This is a fantastic book about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Antjie Krog is a unique person: an Afrikaans poet/journalist who was an ANC comrade. Her account of the TRC is intensely personal and (like the title says) explores themes of guilt, sorrow and forgiveness. She loves Tutu and generally sees the TRC as a good thing, shortcomings and all. I love this book.
Profile Image for Nicole.
123 reviews30 followers
December 24, 2010
It broke my heart, and was incredibly difficult to read, there were times when I could read only a page or two before I'd have to put it back down, but as heart-rending as it was, it's the sort of thing you really should read.
Profile Image for Aurélien Thomas.
Author 10 books105 followers
December 29, 2021
1995, South Africa. Barely a year after the first free elections, which saw the victory of Mandela's ANC, a commission for 'Truth and Reconciliation' (TRC) was created in order to, not only investigate the crimes which had been committed under the Apartheid regime, but, also, facilitate the transition of the country towards democracy. Here was a sort of a national therapy, then, when after waking up from a long nightmare South Africa tried and turn itself towards a new future with a key concept in mind: reconciliation.

In 'Country of my Skull', we witness both some of the victims bringing up their testimonies about how horrendous was such racist Apartheid regime, and, some of the perpetrators, invited to explain themselves (some voicing their remorse -are they sincere?) so as to get an amnesty -a process then judged necessary to permit the reconstruction of the country, without falling back into hatred and murderous resent.

From unknown figures to the most mediatic cases (e.g. Steve Biko's murder, the Bisho massacre, Winnie Mandela's 'football team'...), from ordinary citizens to some of the most emblematic figures (Frederik de Klerk, P.W. Botha, Thabo Mbeki...), rich and poor, Whites and Blacks, the Apartheid is here exposed over a process which lasted about two years, and, through more than 20,000 voices, 2,000 public auditions, encompassing more than 8,000 submitted demands for amnesty. It was a major endeavour, that Antjie Krog, journalist, had then followed for a local radio.

'Country of my Skull', of course, retells the history behind such Commission (its creation, the debates about its legitimacy, its members, his process...). It goes, in fact, beyond a mere journalistic story-telling, since the author also makes such Commission her own, put it back into perspective in order to question the new country whose rebirth can be traced back here, like a tabula rasa to better start all over again. White Afrikaner whose political representatives were the ones in charge of such atrocities, she, indeed, faces herself and her identity, while raising questions about culpability and responsibility -political, criminal, moral. She also extrapolates her reflexions to this new South African society in becoming, facing this hard process involving as much understanding as attempts at forgiving.

Here are deep and serious ethical questioning, reflecting an exhausting work both physically and mentally (a dedicated psychological crisis cell was implemented for those involved) but, in the end, such insight from a critical and intelligent woman, fully engaged herself with the process, makes this part of history more relatable. Here's a book all in all moving, gripping, horrible, sensible, violent, revolting at times, but which, despite it all, constitutes a spark of hope too: even with hate as heritage, living together still remains possible.
Profile Image for Sophia.
135 reviews3 followers
October 1, 2022
Man, I don't know what to rate this book. It kinda feels wrong to rate it in a way, but also, I feel like I need to? I have so many thoughts and feelings, and it's frustrating. I will say that this is by far the most horrifying, disgusting and horrible book I've ever read—which, when thinking about what it's about, should come as no surprise. I am still glad I read it, though—it educated me on something I largely knew nothing about and offered interesting perspectives and insights that I didn't think about before (Perspectives that I don't necessarily agree with but are important to consider regardless).

Would I recommend this book? Depends. It was intensely difficult to read, and I'm surprised we were allowed to read it for school. But a part of it is like... you *should* know. Yes, it's horrible, but the least you can do is read it, right? Be there for it in some way.

I don't know. Antjie Krog, you wrote a difficult one.
102 reviews10 followers
July 4, 2020
Probably the best part of the books are the “raw stories” as given by the victims of the apartheid regime’s brutality.
I have also enjoyed the insights of someone covering South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation from the front seat as a journalist, though I did not always appreciate the lyrical way which Krog uses to narrate her own perspectives.
Profile Image for Anita.
3 reviews
February 10, 2019
This book covers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission with incredible depth and lyricism. A window into the heart of a country filled with difficult memories, moral tension and hope, it remains a must-read for anyone trying to grasp the complexity of the New South Africa.
Profile Image for Francois Lion-Cachet.
54 reviews10 followers
July 18, 2020
A personal rite of passage for me. The book that will continue to write itself into so many aspects of South African life.
Profile Image for Satu.
8 reviews
March 23, 2017
Make no mistake, this book is not about the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa, it's not about the victims of Apartheid and it's certainly not about "the New South Africa".

This is about her, Antjie Krog and her intellectual journey to come to terms with her continued priviledged position in South African society which is only mildly interesting in its own right. Her high intellectualism together with overt contempt for the "overweight men talking about rugby" makes her personal journey unrepresentative of any demografic other than a few intellectual elite-types. As such the story is somewhat irrelevant to the nation, the "New South Africa" as a whole.

But what really put me off was that she leads the reader to believe that this is not in fact about her but about the nation, about the collective trauma of the past and about the victims. She writes very emotionally about the importance of giving a voice to the victims but ends up merely using them and their stories for her own needs of self-acceptance and closure. The only voice we here is her own.

I'm giving this two stars rather than one however, for I did gain some knowledge of the inner workings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which I knew very little about before. There was in fact quite a bit of information about the TRC and the Apartheid era human rights violations. But because the form and the structure of the book was designed to serve the authors self-reflection this information came in bits and pieces here and there and I found it hard to make a coherent whole of it all -another source of frustration and disappointment.
Profile Image for Larkin Tackett.
468 reviews3 followers
January 21, 2018
My favorite class in college focused on comparative race and ethnic relations in the US, South Africa, and Brazil. I remember learning about SA's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)--the country's post-apartheid restorative justice system--and wondering how a similar process would work in the US. This book by a white, multi-generational SA journalist tells in gory detail about the complex racial crimes as presented to the TRC, including the impact on her. While I wished for more context about certain characters and events, and sometimes couldn't tell what was the author's or another's voice, several parts of the book struck me. These include the different reactions to TRC testimony by black and white journalists, the complex leadership of the TRC Chair Desmond Tutu, the relative absence of Nelson Mandela from the story and the alleged crimes of his ex-wife, the horrific treatment of SA black women suspected of crimes agains the white ruling party, and the country's circuitous path to racial healing and progress. Tutu said during the TRC proceedings, "We need to demonstrate qualitatively that this new dispensation is different morality. We need to stand up to be counted for goodness, for truth, for compassion, and not to kowtow to the powerful." We need those things in the US too.
Profile Image for Stephen Hayes.
Author 6 books116 followers
October 13, 2018
A journalists-eye view of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I'm reading it 20 years after the TRC submitted its report to the president, so it's a bit late. Several people have mentioned it to me, and I've been told it is the definitive book on the TRC, so when I saw it in the library I thought I'd better read it.

As a record of the findings of the TRC it is rather disjointed and confusing. There are lots of out-of-context accounts of atrocities that give a vivid picture of the nasty things that people will do to each other in pursuit of a political aim or idea, or perhaps just because of genera nastiness and sadism. And the accounts show the effects on those who suffered as a result. But there is not enough context given to give a coherent picture. I would therefore say that it fails as journalism, if the aim was to help people understand the history of what happened, of the events that the TRC was investigating.

It does, however, tell somewhat more about the effects that hearing of these atrocities had on the people who heard about them, including the journalists themselves. In that sense it is rather introspective. So it's not the story of South Africa, but rather the story of the story. To the extent that the TRC itself is part of the story of South Africa, I suppose it is part of the wider story, but perhaps I was expecting too much.

Profile Image for Zanna Hugo.
61 reviews
March 20, 2018
Finally! I am done with this book. Although it is a good read, brilliant, it is a tough read. It thrusts me as a white South African into the sins of our fathers - ALL of our fathers - and reminds me, yet again, of the fragility of our beautiful people.

Shocking, at times, and sad, this is a very good read if you want an unadulterated look back into the Truth Commission and the work that it has done.

I am truly thankful I read this wonderful book. I am also truly and deeply thankful that I am now finished.
8 reviews4 followers
July 31, 2007
A very personal account of the Truth and Reconciliation Comission in South Africa. I highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in history and restorative justice. I think learning about the South African experience is extremely important to international relations and, more generally, human behavior.
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