From Publishers Weekly
Author and philanthropist Lapierre (A Thousand Suns, The City of Joy) offers a harrowing overview of South African history, from Jan Van Riebeeck's first Dutch farming settlement to the presidential election of Nelson Mandela, including the founding of The Orange Free State and the Transvaal, the Boer war, the rise and fall of Apartheid, and more. Beginning with the arrival of Europeons in the late 17th century, Lapierre charts their subsequent Great Trek into the veld, their conviction that God had ordained them to found a new nation; and the martial clashes with Zulus that cemented their belief in white supremacy. Lapierre also recalls the heroes who triumphed over Apartheid: Helen Lieberman, who risked her life to establish health services and education in black ghettos; Christiaan Barnard, the surgeon who dared implant a "colored heart" in a white patient; and the residents of integrated neighborhoods like District Six, "an oasis of tolerance." Lapierre's biases and some suspect framing ("in a few rare instances, I have taken some liberty with the chronology") can render him untrustworthy: for instance, does "white oppression" really account for the Zulus' massacre of 60 unarmed, outnumbered Boers? Ultimately, this dramatic read, based on "extensive personal research," is absorbing but agenda-driven history. 60 b&w photos.
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For those new to the history of South Africa, this is a highly readable, detailed overview. Beginning with the Europeans’ “discovery” of the Cape, their displacement of the native population, and the establishment of the vicious apartheid law in the name of Christianity, Lapierre then goes on to talk about the rise of the African National Congress and the resistance, leading finally to the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison and the democratic election that made him president of a multiracial country. Originally published in France, the clear, exciting narrative reads like fiction, even including thoughts and feelings of various leaders; unfortunately, though, except for Mandela’s autobiography, there are few source notes (even for direct quotes), only a long bibliography. And there’s little about the continuing inequality in South Africa. But even for those who know the history, Lapierre’s presentation of the horrific facts of official racism is riveting, especially relating to the breakup of families by the laws of a police state in which blacks were regarded as foreigners in their own land. --Hazel Rochman