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Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country
     

Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country

by Gillian Slovo
 

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A passionate witness to the colossal upheaval that has transformed her native South Africa, Gillian Slovo has written a memoir that is far more than a story of her own life. For she is the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, South Africa's pioneering anti-apartheid white activists, a daughter who always had to come second to political commitment. Whilst recalling

Overview

A passionate witness to the colossal upheaval that has transformed her native South Africa, Gillian Slovo has written a memoir that is far more than a story of her own life. For she is the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, South Africa's pioneering anti-apartheid white activists, a daughter who always had to come second to political commitment. Whilst recalling the extraordinary events which surrounded her family's persecution and exile, and reconstructing the truth of her parents' relationship and her own turbulent childhood, Gillian Slovo has also created an astonishing portrait of a courageous mother and a father of integrity and stoicism.

Editorial Reviews

Observer
A luminous achievement.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"In most families, it is the children who leave home. In mine it was the parents." So writes Gillian Slovo, the daughter of white South Africa's most famous radical couple: Ruth First and Joe Slovo. Now in her 40s, Gillian attempts to find answers to questions that resonate as if from a Nadine Gordimer novel: How much did her Communist parents, who were fighting apartheid horrors, owe their three neglected children? Her perspective is less one of bitterness than ache, coupled with the psychological curiosity of the novelist she is. Gillian first reconstructs the circumstances of her mother's 1982 death by letter bomb (via South African agents) in Mozambique, then delves into her own dislocated youth, when her mother was detained by the state and the family's modus operandi was secrecy. In 1990, Joe Slovo returned to South Africa as one of the African National Congress's top negotiators; he later became the new government's housing minister. Once white South Africa's bogeyman, he was now lionized. But the pensive Gillian, down from London, finds her father resistant to talking about his past. Only after Joe dies peacefully does Gillian find out some family secrets: mutual infidelities, a half-brother fathered by Joe. Also, she has a remarkable confrontation with the evasive ex-cop who helped send that letter bomb. In the end of this fluid, often fascinating memoir, Gillian does find peace, judging her parents less harshly and feeling pride in the country, her country, that her parents did help save.
Kirkus Reviews
Weaving the personal and political tightly together, novelist Slovo creates an incisive and unflinching portrait of her prominent South African family.
At the height of apartheid, perhaps no two white South Africans were more hated and more admired than Slovo's parents, Ruth First and Joe Slovo. As prominent members of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (which Joe would eventually head), they had gone where few white South Africans dared. Not content with the subdued grumbling and subversive tea parties that usually passed for anti-apartheid activism in their privileged circle, they became increasingly radicalized and escaped into exile. While Ruth fought for the cause largely through journalism and academic research, Joe lived a life of secrecy and subterfuge, planning how to hit back at the apartheid regime through sabotage and terror. Though the South African government wanted both of them dead, Ruth was the easier target. In 1982, a mail bomb killed her in Mozambique. Joe lived to help negotiate—peacefully—South Africa's future. But soon after Mandela appointed him minister of housing, he was stricken with cancer and quickly died. As Slovo investigates the wilderness of mirrors that constituted her parents' political lives, she also tries to discover who they really were as individuals behind the secrets and the lies. She has covered some of this ground before in fiction (Ties of Blood, 1990), but what she discovered and recounts here has a strangeness and piquancy quite beyond her fictive powers. Not only does she track down and confront one of the men responsible for her mother's death—a cool and clever equivocator, largelyunrepentant—she also movingly details the pain and the pride she felt growing up in such strange, terrible times.
A memorable and emotionally compelling achievement.

From the Publisher

"An extraordinary expression of the very nature of loving, which illuminates, with the anger and tenderness of deep emotion, that human territory we all occupy, and where we conceal so much from ourselves."  —Nadine Gordimer, winner, 1991 Nobel Prize in literature

"While it contributes many new domestic and political details of the lives of her parents, Every Secret Thing is mostly about Gillian herself—and what it means to be the child of parents totally committed to a cause at whatever cost in danger, imprisonment, exile, and family disruption."  —New York Times Book Review

"Weaving the personal and political tightly together, novelist Slovo creates an incisive and unflinching portrait of her prominent South African family. . . . A memorable and emotionally compelling achievement."  —Kirkus Reviews

"Weaving the personal and political tightly together, novelist Slovo creates an incisive and unflinching portrait of her prominent South African family. . . . A memorable and emotionally compelling achievement."  —Kirkus Reviews

"Wonderfully moving . . . anger, frustration, and the hunger for sharing wash her pages, though they never swamp the admiration for her parents."  —Guardian

"Gillian Slovo has written a brave book, as unsparing of herself as it is of her parents . . . a moving testimony."  —Independent

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780349108568
Publisher:
Little, Brown Book Group
Publication date:
02/01/1998
Pages:
282
Product dimensions:
4.90(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.80(d)

Meet the Author


Gillian Slovo is a novelist and playwright whose titles include Red Dust and the Orange Prize-shortlisted Ice Road.

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