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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa Paperback – August 8, 2000
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"One of the best books of the year."
"This is a deeply moving account of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission--South Africa's attempt to come to terms with her often horrendous past. Antjie Krog writes with the sensitivity of a poet and the clarity of a journalist. Country of My Skull is a must-read for all who are fascinated by this unique attempt to deal with a post-conflict context. It is a beautiful and powerful book."
-- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
"Trying to understand the new South Africa without the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be futile; trying to understand the commission without this book would be irresponsible."
-- André Brink, author of A Dry White Season
Antjie Krog has rendered the world a great service. This elegant manifesto for justice will haunt the soul long after the reading is done."
-- Douglas Brinkley, professor of history and director of the Eisenhower Center at the University of New Orleans
"Here is the extraordinary reportage of one who, eyes staring into the filthiest places of atrocity, poet's searing tongue speaking of them, is not afraid to go too far. Antjie Krog breaks all the rules of dispassionate recounts, the restraints of 'decent' prose, because this is where the truth might be reached and reconciliation with it is posited like a bewildered angel thrust down into hell."
-- Nadine Gordimer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
From the Inside Flap
elson 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 t
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Krog offers a number of perspectives, including her own as she wrestles with the realities put forward during the commission's work. Her writing style allows for some creative elements that enhance the writing and the material, while not taking away from the facts. This is a must for students who are interested in peace and conflict studies, or anyone interested in South African politics.
I found this book both difficult to read, and difficult to put down. Krog chooses extremely compelling stories to highlight, and the impact is visceral. She asks some very smart and difficult questions about what truth and reconciliation can possibly mean in a country burdened with such a history. The Country of My Skull does an excellent job in providing possible answers to these hard questions, while acknowledging that she may not be the person to either have an opinion or have an answer. She seems to continually ask who are judges and who are victims, given the situation.
While I liked that she shared her own experience of the Commission honestly, there were times when I felt that the focus on her personal life weakened the book. Made it overly poetic, somehow. When she discusses the Death Fugue of Celan, she makes the point that there are some subjects that poetry cannot and perhaps should not touch. I sympathize with the desire to use that kind of precise and metaphoric language, but it increases the distance.
This seems to me an important book. Four and a half stars.
One of the greatest social laboratories of change in modern times was the collapse of apartheid and the birth of the modern democratic Republic of South Africa. Out of the civic catharsis embodied in this collapse and the subsequent racial and political somersault of South African society, a unique and classic venue for human rights, The South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was created.
In this deeply moving book, Antjie Krog, South African poet and child of the Free State, has compiled a compelling record of the TRC. The reader will receive an immediate and powerful exposure to Bishop Edmund Tutu's Ubuntu theology (the harmony between individual and community) as an embodiment of the ancient African Weltganschauung (a person is human precisely in the community of other human beings).
Again, it is the poet who elucidates for the rest of us the heart of man-as-community. Utilizing a first-person dialogue within a keen observational and lovely prosaic style, Antjie Krog enables us to enter both the foreheads of perpetrators of violence and the hearts of its victims. It also includes rare insights into the indifference and guilt of both white and black citizens during the apartheid regime. In this chronicle of the TRC, we witness an abiding desire to expose the dark past in constructing the crucial accountability to future generations. This, as Antjie Krog so lovingly describes, is the miracle rebirth her "wide and woeful land."
This fascinating journaling of the petitions before the TRC - the angst in seeking a common unity - reveals a redeeming Phoenix of truth in the ashes of apartheid. Antjie Krog's unique documentation of the proceedings of the TRC is a valued record of modern South African history. This is a beautifully written and classic case-study of essential "transparency" in global constitutional democracy.
Jess Maghan, Chester, Ct.
05 February 2002
I give it three stars as a non-South African reader because a lot is lost unless one is very familiar with
the political figures, groups, names of the hit squads, etc. involved in the Apartheid era atrocities. An appendix
dealing with personalities and acronyms would be a great addition.
Author/journalist Anjie Krog includes discussions of the details of what worked, what didn't , the ambiguity and lack
of clear blacks and whites with which this T & R Commission dealt - and which any such process involves.
The fragmented quality of the narrative beautifully conveys the stark, traumatic quality of the actual hearings.