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The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood
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The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood

4.18  ·  Rating details ·  118 ratings  ·  28 reviews
An extraordinary, literary memoir from a gay white South African, coming of age at the end of apartheid in the late 1970s.  Glen Retief's childhood was at once recognizably ordinary--and brutally unusual.

Raised in the middle of a game preserve where his father worked, Retief's warm nuclear family was a preserve of its own, against chaotic forces just outside its borders: a
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published April 12th 2011 by St. Martin's Press
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Peterson Toscano
Mar 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Regardless what Retief writes about, his use of language and deep reflection is gripping. Excellent memoir. There is something for everyone. He offers a meditation on violence from the natural world to the Apartheid state. Moving, insightful, and brilliantly executed. (I read a pre-released version of the book)
Lindsey Tate
Jan 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club
Beautifully written, brutally honest memoir about growing up in South Africa during a time of extreme political change. Retief's first years of childhood are spent in the middle of a game preserve, the Kruger National Park, surrounded by exotic animals and impressive landscapes. Yet this paradise hides its own dark shadows: the abuse of his sister by his grandfather, a father's friend involved in state-backed murders - and at the age of twelve when Retief goes away to boarding school any innocen ...more
Sep 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Diane, Laura, Jan F., Susan
Recommended to Doreen by: Prescott
Jack bank refers to the hazings/beatings that the author endures while at boarding school. He could 'bank' some of this torture against future 'infractions', real or fabricated. A sophomoric, brutal tradition at the boarding school, Retief suffers from PTSD in the following years because of it.

The memoir spans Retief's childhood in the natural beauty of South Africa, his adolescent and teen years, grappling with bullies and his budding sexuality, and his years as an adult, as he experiments wi
Elizabeth Cole
Apr 09, 2016 rated it it was ok
Though the stories are incredible, the author's sense of vagueness and perpetual questioning of his own life distracts from the events. It is a story mixed with violence and love, where passion is the underlying theme. It seems to be written as a 250 page monologue, which would be much better served if spoken aloud rather than read.
Literature Teacher
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Vivid and beautiful. I may assign it in a postcolonial literature class.
Sharon Holderbaum
Jun 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Picked this book up in Airport to find out my son had this professor at Susquehanna Univ! Good read!
Combine South Africa, boarding school, and questioning of sexuality -- three book topics that interest me more or less to no end -- and stir. Add a bit of seasoning; stir again. Yay?

What surprised me, I think, was how little the book had to do with the cover copy. I mean, yes, he talks about growing up in a game preserve; he talks about boarding school and the jack bank. But that's more or less where the cover copy ends, leading me to think that that was the focus of the book; as it is, the jack
Brian Reeves
May 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I don't have much experience with memoir, but this one was great. Written by one of my grad school associates and friends, Glen Retief, The Jack Bank tells of his early years in South Africa, in an environment where violence often merges with power and sexuality. Life in an African National Park itself was interesting, but his depiction of the horrors taking place in boarding school was gut-wrenching. The title and back cover only touch on the depth of violence and depravity inflicted upon the l ...more
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Growing up in South Africa: Man, this is going to be cool, with wild animals hanging out in your backyard and maybe a lion mauling or something. I pictured lush tree-lined streets on the way to school, boyhood adventures.

Not that my initial expectations were wrong, but there is so much more.

Like most children, Glen thinks his childhood is fairly common. We open up with an interviewer who wants to know the gritty details about living on a game preserve, but he talks about his hobbies and his frie
AJ Payne
Sep 06, 2012 rated it liked it
I really can't decide if I liked this one. I did for the most part - I liked most of the stories told, I generally liked the author, I liked the South Africa part (of course), and I loved the honesty... but there were things I definitely wasn't into, too.

I didn't really understand the title, and I definitely didn't understand why the author had to keep bringing it up constantly. I understood what the jack bank was when it happened in boarding school, but then the author incessantly brought it up
Nov 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
I expected to really like this. What is not to like about a child that grows up in Kruger Park? However, it ends up being more about his childhood, where he was bullied for being different - and about him finally figuring out that he was gay. His family were English Catholics, which was different than all the other white people. So, he grows up, has trouble making friends, goes to boarding school where he is beaten, goes to college and finds out he is gay. And then, he wants to move to the USA t ...more
Jan 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Read this for school and had the opportunity to meet the writer, a really interesting and bright fellow. To be completely honest, I didn't think I'd be all that crazy about the book, it just didn't sound like my cup of tea. But Retief's journey is fascinating and inspiring, not to mention quite well-written. I especially enjoyed the "Black Boys of My Youth" section. Retief's recollections of his adolescence are both amusing and enlightening. Definitely worth a read.
Jan 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book. I met the author this summer at a reading. Very interesting to learn about what it was like growing up gay in South Africa. This book was especially pertinent last month with the death of Nelson Mandela.He is an excellent writer. Very descriptive memoir. I would highly recommend reading this book.
Aug 11, 2011 rated it liked it
retief has a very interesting story to tell, but unfortunately feels the need to hit his reader over the head with his 'theme,' thereby sacrificing the art of subtlety a book like this would really benefit from. it ends up feeling contrived, especially towards the end. which is a shame, as he's a good writer and, as i said, his is a fascinating story.
Jane Brazell
Apr 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Retief's telling of his childhood and youth in South Africa is gripping and beautifully written. The ideas presented about bullying are applicable to our current situation. It is also a wonderful look at South Africa.
Jul 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
An insight into growing up not-straight in South Africa in the dying days Apartheid. I enjoyed the story and the recounting of Glenn's coming to terms with his sexuality in the midst of turbulent familial and political times.
Oct 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
It's actually better than a 4! I loved this book and an so proud of my faculty colleague at Susquehanna whose story it is and who writes beautifully. This book won a Lambda award last year and I can see why!
Jun 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
An engrossing memoir that draws some really interesting parallels about institutionalized hatred and violence, from homophobia and bullying in a boarding school to the racism and discrimination of the apartheid system.
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It's incredibly difficult to create a review for a book that one of your professors wrote. I'll let the rating speak for itself on this one for the time being until I manage to choke up the words to express how awesome I thought it was.
Kelly Syhre
Jun 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really liked the author's writing, beautifully descriptive. This memoir tells the journey of growing up as a white boy & young adult in South Africa. He comes to terms with his sexuality & discovers who he is during times of political upheaval. ...more
Brian Murphy
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Loved loved loved it. Beautifully written. Deeply moving.
Found I was more interested in the SA events than in the characters life.
Kristin Rawls
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Lovely, hilarious, painful, wise and truthful. A beautiful book.
Hannah Langhoff
Feb 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book is often difficult to read, given the subject matter, but it's beautifully written.
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I happen to know Glen Retief's husband-to-be. This was a difficult book to read. Violence begets violence. Only love can redeem violence. I look forward to the next installment.
Jan 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Thoughtful, painful, but most of all, honest. Beautiful language as well. This story needs to be heard.
Brandon Shire
May 11, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: glbt, nonfiction
I don't usually do memoirs, but this book, the authors use of language... beautiful.
Highly recommended.
rated it really liked it
Dec 03, 2012
Lisa Day
rated it it was amazing
Nov 29, 2017
rated it it was amazing
Dec 18, 2013
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