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A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0306818479
ISBN-10: 0306818477
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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; 1st edition (November 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306818477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306818479
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,187,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Neale on February 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The early part of this book is a relatively even presentation of the early history of Europeans in South Africa and the Boer War. In the second half of the book, the author focuses on a few figures that interest him without regard to their significance to the larger story. One can argue that it is interesting to mention Christian Barnard, the doctor who successfully executed the first heart transplant, but to donate an entire chapter to him in this short book which leaves out so many key players, is an odd choice at best. Even stranger is its focus on one white woman who helped to build a school in a black township. Notable omissions of important players include Helen Suzman who stood alone in Parliament as the anti-apartheid voice for thirteen years and who served in all as an mp for more than thirty. it was she who managed to reform the prison system to the extent that Mandela could promote a culture of education among the ANC prisoners. Desmond Tutu gets the briefest of mentions and the significance of the Truth and Reconciliation committee is dismissed in a sentence. There is nothing wrong with the information here, but there are just too many omissions in the second half. The first half is a good, quick way to review the Great Trek and the Boer War.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book, chronicling apartheid from its start in the 1800's when a group of Dutch zealots seized the area as their "right" thru modern times and the demise of apartheid in the 1990's. It covers the early wars between the blacks and the Dutch, the different tribes of blacks against each other, and the conflict between the later-arriving British and the Dutch. It then builds up the segregation of the blacks building up to apartheid. It covers: The abhorrent treatment of the blacks, the labeling of various types as to race, their segregation into their own townships, the segregation of blacks from "coloreds" (people of mixed race, or Indians) including separation of families because of black vs colored; the declaration that Afrikaans is the official language; the building of a resistance and the various resistance groups; the imprisonment of Mandela and others; the student protest in 1976 and violent reaction by the whites; finally with the freeing of Mandela and the end of apartheid.

The book is quite thorough and writing is excellent. There is one thing that threw me off for a while and that is that it is not written linearly with respect to time, so you have to pay attention to the years that you are reading about. None the less, it's a hard book to put down.
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Format: Hardcover
It is not much use learning history if we do not also feel the sensation and emotions of the protagonists at the time they enter history. For this reason, it is never easy writing history. Detailed academic accounts tend to be cold and uninspiring. On the other hand, the ones that sensationalize are often inaccurate. Dominique Lapierre's account covers almost four centuries of the history of South Africa - from the time Van Riebeeck landed there to grow lettuce to the handing over of the reigns of power by de Klerk to Mandela. In a fast moving, yet seamless account he showed that man's oppressive nature can be contained and overcome only by the spirit of man. This book is probably the best for the reader who has heard about apartheid but does not know how it started or how it ended, and more importantly, what went on under its policies. This book is for the reader who has heard about Nelson Mandela but is not sure why this man is great. This book is for the reader who believes that the human spirit is strong but not am not quite sure how strong it can be.
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Format: Hardcover
This book was very mediocre, and missed so many people and events that would have been interesting to learn more about. For instance, Jan Smuts is barely mentioned. However, he had a major impact on South Africa: it would be as if you wrote a history of the USA and didn't mention FDR. It would have been interesting if he had explained about the elections in 1948 and Smuts's stand and the electoral divisions. Instead, he focused extensively on Christiaan Barnard and Helen Lieberman. I know history is not just supposed to a sequence of prime ministers and battles, but a South African history with barely a mention of Jan Smuts just isn't credible. It would have also been more interesting if he had tried to explain a bit why the Afrikaners (and to some extent, the English) really felt the way they did and what their fears in Communism were based on. I've read other books by this author, and this was not up to par.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been looking for a book that wasn't too ponderous to explain my grandmother's country of origin, South Africa. I enjoyed this book and learned a great deal from it. It is very readable, and explains a great deal. Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
Dominique LaPierre writes a completely engaging story of South Africa, translated from the French by Kathryn Spink. For those, like me, who mostly know South Africa through the words of Nelson Mandela (as in the wonderful, highly recommended Long Walk to Freedom), this history fills in much more of the history of this fascinating nation. For example, the initial Dutch presence in southern Africa stemmed from the Dutch East India Company's desire to provide vegetables for passing ships, with no desire for conquest or empire there.

The history is not comprehensive: As the author says in his note, "I did not set out to compile an exhaustive history of South Africa. Rather, I wanted to recount, as accurately as possible, a powerful human epic" (ix). He does exactly that. He recounts the history through people's stories: Christiaan Barnard, who performed the world's first heart transplant (and, shortly thereafter, the first inter-racial heart transplant, in defiance of apartheid); Helen Lieberman, a white speech therapist who worked in poor townships; Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the work for reconciliation; Nelson Mandela; Wouter Basson, a doctor who spent his career developing unconventional weapons against blacks (such as poisoned underclothing intended to assassinate Archbishop Tutu (p186-7), various pre-Mandela presidents; and the architects of apartheid.

I was particularly struck by the influence of Nazism in informing the apartheid regime.
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