We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation

We Are Not Such Things: The Murder of a Young American, a South African Township, and the Search for Truth and Reconciliation

by Justine van der Leun

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Overview

A gripping investigation in the vein of the podcast Serial—a summer nonfiction pick by Entertainment Weekly and The Wall Street Journal

Justine van der Leun reopens the murder of a young American woman in South Africa, an iconic case that calls into question our understanding of truth and reconciliation, loyalty, justice, race, and class.

“Timely . . . gripping, explosive . . . the kind of obsessive forensic investigation—of the clues, and into the soul of society—that is the legacy of highbrow sleuths from Truman Capote to Janet Malcolm.”The New York Times Book Review

“A masterpiece of reported nonfiction . . . Justine van der Leun’s account of a South African murder is destined to be a classic.”—Newsday

The story of Amy Biehl is well known in South Africa: The twenty-six-year-old white American Fulbright scholar was brutally murdered on August 25, 1993, during the final, fiery days of apartheid by a mob of young black men in a township outside Cape Town. Her parents’ forgiveness of two of her killers became a symbol of the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa. Justine van der Leun decided to introduce the story to an American audience. But as she delved into the case, the prevailing narrative started to unravel. Why didn’t the eyewitness reports agree on who killed Amy Biehl? Were the men convicted of the murder actually responsible for her death? And then van der Leun stumbled upon another brutal crime committed on the same day, in the very same area. The true story of Amy Biehl’s death, it turned out, was not only a story of forgiveness but a reflection of the complicated history of a troubled country.

We Are Not Such Things is the result of van der Leun’s four-year investigation into this strange, knotted tale of injustice, violence, and compassion. The bizarre twists and turns of this case and its aftermath—and the story that emerges of what happened on that fateful day in 1993 and in the decades that followed—come together in an unsparing account of life in South Africa today. Van der Leun immerses herself in the lives of her subjects and paints a stark, moving portrait of a township and its residents. We come to understand that the issues at the heart of her investigation are universal in scope and powerful in resonance. We Are Not Such Things reveals how reconciliation is impossible without an acknowledgment of the past, a lesson as relevant to America today as to a South Africa still struggling with the long shadow of its history.

Praise for We Are Not Such Things

“Moving . . . a very necessary and occasionally confounding account of a small slice of post-apartheid, post-Mandela South Africa, a country that has largely been forgotten in the international maelstrom of terrorism and mass migration. It is a story of frustrated expectations, broken dreams, endemic greed and corruption, but also indomitable human spirit, told against the backdrop of one of the world’s most beautiful natural settings.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“This suspenseful and engrossing story calls into question the simplicities people yearn for when justice is sought for a vicious crime. Justine van der Leun shows how a powerful desire for reconciliation can in fact obscure the truth, a truth we need in order to establish the equity and justice that all people deserve.”—Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black

“What an achievement! This absorbing account of the pursuit of the truth about an infamous and symbolic crime is consummate in its reach and penetration.”—Norman Rush, author of Mating

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812994506
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/28/2016
Pages: 544
Sales rank: 1,278,396
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Justine van der Leun, after graduating with a degree in journalism from New York University in 2003, spent three years working as an associate editor and writer at O, The Oprah Magazine, before becoming a full-time freelance writer and editor with a focus on narrative nonfiction. She is the author of the travel memoir Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught an American Girl about Love. She and her husband live in Ethiopia.


Erin Bennett is an Earphones Award-winning narrator and a stage actress who played Carlie Roberts in the BBC radio drama Torchwood: Submission. She can be heard on several video games. Regional theater appearances include the Intiman, Pasadena Playhouse, Arizona Theatre Company, A Noise Within, Laguna Playhouse, and the Getty Villa. She trained at Boston University and the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

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Copyright © 2016 Justine van der Leun.
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