Finished #reading: My Traitor’s Heart, by Rian Malan. Or should I say: it finished me.
Extraordinary book. If I had to summarise it in a sentence: it’s Rian Malan’s account of how his flattering self-image as a Just White Man was smashed by the reality of apartheid South Africa, especially by the horrors of the late 1980s.
Two things in particular that the book brought home to me:
- What an utterly insane system apartheid was. I’d thought it was “just” a form of segregation, but Malan describes vividly how the “mad scientists of apartheid” seriously attempted to create a purely white South Africa in which no black people at all would live or work outside their “tribal homelands”. This was a system in which P.W. Botha could (at least until the state of emergency) look like a liberalising leader who was stepping back from the extremism of his predecessors. P.W. Botha.
- What a miracle it is that South Africa didn’t descend into an absolute bloodbath after apartheid. Yes, it has some serious problems (not least an astonishingly high murder rate), but Malan was clearly expecting millions of people to die once apartheid finally collapsed.
As for the emotional impact of the book, I’ll let Gary Larson sum it up: