Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

by Antjie Krog
     
 

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Ever since Nelson 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… See more details below

Overview

Ever since Nelson 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 the renowned cleric Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Established in 1995, the commission faced the awesome task of hearing the testimony of the victims of apartheid as well as the oppressors. Amnesty was granted to those who offered a full confession of any crimes associated with apartheid. Since the commission began its work, it has been the central player in a drama that has riveted the country. In this book, Antjie Krog, a South African journalist and poet who has covered the work of the commission, recounts the drama, the horrors, the wrenching personal stories of the victims and their families. Through the testimonies of victims of abuse and violence, from the appearance of Winnie Mandela to former South African president P. W. Botha's extraordinary courthouse press conference, this award-winning poet leads us on an amazing journey.

Country of My Skull captures the complexity of the Truth Commission's work. The narrative is often traumatic, vivid, and provocative. Krog's powerful prose lures the reader actively and inventively through a mosaic of insights, impressions, and secret themes. This compelling tale is Antjie Krog's profound literary account of the mending of a country that was in colossal need of change.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"One of the best books of the year."
--The Economist

"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

The Economist
One of the best books of the year.
Lourens Ackermann
Tip your hat to Krog and her book. Our nation be poorer without it. -- Johannesburg Sunday Times
Gillian McAinsh
Like Nelson Mandela's The Long Walk to Freedom, this is a must read of the new South Africa. -- The Weekend Post Leisure
Barbara Trapido
The book... is wonderful. Few could have done Krog's job without resorting to nervous breakdown and to have written the book is heroic. -- London Sunday Times
Anthony Sampson
Antjie Krog gives us a vivid answer in this strange and haunting account of the hearings....The book pulls no punches in its treatment of the Afrikaners, particularly the politicians who inspired torturers and muderers but refused to admit it.... It is the reflections about Afrikaners by an Afrikaner which provide the most poignant writing.

...the power of this passionate and original book comes form its ability to describe universal human horrors which are not distinctively Afrikaner or African: to throw light on the nightmare world in which quite ordinary and boring people are transformed into practitioners of terror and counter-terror, which achieve their own momentum, and torture becomes a normal instrument of war. -- Literary Review

James North
Krog set herself a difficult task. Readers outside South Africa will find it hard at times to follow....But Krog's skill, along with the nature of the testimony itself, guarantees that this book will still have an impact, even for people who don't fully grasp the different players...
The Washington Monthly
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's 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. (Mar.)
Library Journal
Krog, a poet and the parliamentary editor for South African Broadcasting Corporation radio, has written a remarkable, moving, often painful account of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to reconcile warring parties from the apartheid era. Krog covered the commission's hearings, beginning in 1996. In this work, a combination of reportage, memoir, and moral tract, she describes the tortuous path of the commission as it heard perpetrators as well as victims in an attempt to heal the gaping wounds of South Africa's past. A compelling account, beautifully written, with a very helpful glossary for the uninitiated, this cathartic read is highly recommended for all major libraries.--Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, IN
Jeremy Harding
During those two years...South Africa
— and Krog along with it
— remained transfixed by its own capacity for violence....The shadow lurking beneath the surface, as Krog recognizes, was politics.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
This searing examination is a compelling achievement that considers the nature of guilt, shame, and forgiveness in post-apartheid South Africa, yet also sometimes feels exactly like what it is—a series of clumsily stitched-together news reports. For more than two years, South African radio reporter and esteemed poet Krog covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's investigations into crimes committed on all sides in the name of apartheid. Headed by the Nobel Prize–winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission held out the promise of complete amnesty, but only in return for complete honesty about each and every offense. Hearings were held all around the country, with victims and their families able to confront their torturers. The testimony was painfully riveting, and Krog includes vast, uninterpolated swaths of accounts of bombings, beatings, rapes, and murder squads. She details expertly the effects of such terrible revelations on white South Africans, most of whom had never thought (or wanted to think) about the true cost of sustaining apartheid; what had once seemed to them like standard-issue authoritarianism eventually was viewed as unmitigated evil, reminiscent of nothing so much as Nazi Germany. Although the Truth Commission itself has been criticized for a relatively lenient treatment of the African National Congress, Krog is not blind to the anti-apartheid opposition's own multifarious brutalities. However, she is so focused on the particularities and intricacies of the South African experience that many general readers will find substantial chunks of this book somewhat inaccessible, despite a concluding glossary of South African terms and brief bios. Krog's poeticand reportorial gifts often serve her well—her lapidary profundity and keen-edged analysis are frequently superb. Still, she fails to craft them into a sustained or focused narrative. Like the truth itself, a messy, imposing sprawl. .

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780812931297
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/28/2000
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
432
Sales rank:
625,185
Product dimensions:
5.51(w) x 8.21(h) x 0.97(d)

What People are saying about this

Douglas Brinkley
Country of My Skull is an unforgettable passion play about the ongoing struggle for political freedom and human rights in South Africa. By analyzing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in such absorbing and poetic detail, Antjie Krog has rendered the world a great service. This elegant manifesto for justice will haunt the soul long after the reading is done.
Desmond Tutu
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.
Nadine Gordimer
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.
Andre Brink
Trying to understand the new South Africa without the Truth and Reconciliation Committee would be futile; trying to understand the Commission without this book would be irresponsible.

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