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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa Hardcover – February 22, 1999

4.5 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In the year following South Africa's first democratic elections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate human rights abuses committed under the apartheid regime. Presided over by God's own diplomat, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first hearings of the commission were held in April 1996. During the following two years of hearings, South Africans were daily exposed to revelations and public testimony about their traumatic past, and--like the world that looked on--continued to discover that the relationship between truth and reconciliation is far more complex than they had ever imagined.

Antjie Krog, a prominent South African poet and journalist, led the South African Broadcasting Corporation team that for two years reported daily on the hearings. Extreme forms of torture, abuse, and state violence were the daily fare of the Truth Commission. Many of those involved with its proceedings, including Krog herself, suffered personal stresses--ill health, mental breakdown, dissolution of relationships--in the face of both the relentless onslaught of the truth and the continuing subterfuges of unrelenting perpetrators. Like the Truth Commission itself, Country of My Skull gives central prominence to the power of the testimony of the victims, combining a journalist's reportage skills with the poet's ability to give voice to stories previously unheard. --Rachel Holmes

From Publishers Weekly

This wrenching book tells the vital story of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the body charged with exploring human rights violations in the apartheid past and with recommending amnesty and reparations. Krog, a poet who covered the TRC's two years of hearings as a radio reporter, presents a national (and personal) process of catharsis, cobbling together transcripts of testimony, reportage and personal meditations. The TRC, headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, gave voice to the anguished, often eloquent stories of numerous victims of apartheid, most?but not all?of whom were black. It put faces on stealthy killers and torturers seeking amnesty. And while it exposed the evil of the apartheid state, it did not ignore the dirty hands of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress or of his ex-wife, Winnie. Krog?who, like some other journalists covering the TRC, experienced psychological strain?presents Tutu and the TRC as heroic. While her partisanship is mostly excusable, this book has other flaws: published last year in South Africa, it lacks analysis of the TRC's October 1998 report and recommendations. More troubling are Krog's somewhat muddled meditations on the slippery nature of truth and narrative and her implication that small falsehoods are permissible?even necessary?for the discernment of a larger truth. While Country of My Skull shows evidence of an enduring racial divide, its ultimate hopefulness counterpoints Rian Malan's powerfully pessimistic My Traitor's Heart (1990). In both books, Afrikaner authors, members of the tribe that instituted apartheid, seek a place in their tortured, beloved country.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; First Edition edition (February 22, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812931289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812931280
  • Product Dimensions: 1.5 x 7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book struck me, as an Afrikaner, as a catharsis in itself. It enacts what it describes. It is its own peculiar truth commission for each reader. Foreign readers will not share this special experience, but will be absolutely enthralled by the poetic rendition of what appears to be a struggle to get to grips, in literary terms, with an immense personal experience. There are some very disturbing parts. My criticism is that the self-conscious literary symbolism at times appears to be strained, and to be at odds with the dialogue, or with the dramatic moment. What is essentially brooding cogitation is often presented rather implausibly as natural dialogue. It should be remembered that Krog is a poet. One should read the book as one would a dramatic monologue displaying someone trying to cope with a confused flood of guilt, elation, sadness and hope. And racial shame. The book represents an experience well worth the inevitable depression that will accompany its reading. It is also an extremely successful presentation, in digestible and dramatic format, of a phenomenon that remains crucial to the post-apartheid South African reality. It is, in other words, good history and good journalism as well as good poetry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thankyou Antjie. You clarify a brave, extraordinary venture into reconciliation as a serious option to persistent conflict. It must have been a harrowing journey for you. I hope I meet and thank you someday (indeed, and again thank you from my soul, I actually did at Columbia University, although had not expected your deeply respected reaction). Ive worked throughout Southern Africa off and on for many years. For several of those years I carried two passports, one for when I flew via Johannesburg, and the other with a visa for entry into any African country, who might refuse me passage if they saw my TYD.VERBLYPERMIT stamp. For me personally, apartheid was a stain on my heritage and on the distorted world into which I had grown up. Despite an Oxford degree in english literature, I continued reading thousands of books for more than thirty years. This is the only book I have ever read which completely tore my heart to tears.
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Format: Paperback
This is simply a fantastic piece of literature, written by a very talented, brave, and steadfast journalist, the great Antjie Krog. Krog, an Afrikaaner (South-African born Caucasian), as part of the South African Broadcasting Corporation's commitment to covering the ongoing stories of torture, abuse, murder and countless other violations to human rights revealed at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Hearings in 1996, recounts many, of a cross section of stories, here in this book. We also get a strong sense of the psychological and emotional toll it takes, to bare witness to the stories, told by, both, victims and victimizers. Children were left orphans, wives were left widows, casualties were left permanently disfigured and disabled, in the aftermath of extensive race riots in South Africa, following apartheid (or the enforced segregation of Blacks from Whites) in neighboring townships, throughout the town of Soweto, and beyond.

Just a note to anyone who intends to read this book. Please keep in mind that many of the stories, recounted in Krog's novel are graphic and very disturbing. However, they are also invaluably important. I believe this is a story everyone should be aware of. Many people heard the words "apartheid" "Soweto" and "Truth and Reconciliation Commission," in passing on the news and in the media, without really having a sense of the significance of the very important events, taking place in South Africa in 1996. This is your chance to truly come to understand the degree to which racism destroys communities, divides people and ultimately leads to fateful consequences.
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Format: Hardcover
I bought my copy of "The Country of My Skull" while on a trip to South AFrica in August, 1998. This is the first-hand observers view of the South African apartheid amnesty hearing in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu).
This is a gripping and unsettling book. Hard to read because of the intensity of the tales that are retold by the author. But this is an important book because we learn again the extent of man's inhumanity to man.
If you are interested in South Africa, politics, racial relationships, or human struggle against injustice, this is a "must read" book. Nothing like it has ever been published.
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By A Customer on April 2, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Here is a complex book that scratches the surface of a very complex ordeal; Apartheid. Krog gives a very personal report on the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission, a Committee charged with hearing the crimes of perpetrators in Apartheid and deciding on their amnesty respectively. Her language is very emotional at times, even suspiciously involved. You can sense in her writing her own struggle to explore the apathy of her own ethnicity, the white Afrikaaner, in the face of such atrocities.
Overall, a very complex book. I couldn't put this one down and finished it in about 3 days. If you have an interest in Apartheid you may gain new insight on the matter after having read this.
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