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Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the…

Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the… (1998)

by Antjie Krog

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Showing 5 of 5
2.5 stars

Shortly after Nelson Mandela became president of South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee was formed to listen to victims and perpetrators of apartheid. If perpetrators applied for and came clean, they would be given amnesty.

I didn't like the writing style. The author is putting a lot of herself into it, and I'm not interested in her. The stories are very short and it wasn't enough to keep me interested most of the time. There is also a lot more about the Truth and Reconciliation Committee itself and how the hearings are proceeding, how it works, etc – more than I'm interested in. I ended up reading it quite quickly because I skimmed so much of it, because it wasn't holding my interest. Some stories did hold my interest, but not nearly as many as I'd hoped. I did find it interesting that Nelson Mandela's ex-wife had a group of bodyguards (young boys) who terrorized and tortured people. Overall, though it's a topic that should be more interesting (and apparently it is to other people, just not to me, based on other reviews). ( )
  LibraryCin | Nov 17, 2013 |
Country of My Skull is an astonishing book. Krog's attempt to embrace, explicate, and bear witness to South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is complicated, creative, flawed, distressing, inspiring. A supremely human book that doesn't resile from its truths, emotional and otherwise.

Krog is a radio journalist assigned to cover the 'make-or-break' Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the larval, apartheid-free South African state. But she is also a poet, an Afrikaner, a left-wing journalist, a woman, and more. As a microcosm of South African society passes through the commission, which lens will she view them with? How can one do justice to these people? - a question no less pressing for Krog than the Commission itself.

The answer to both questions varies a lot. Some parts of Country of My Skull are simply transcripts of the testimonies, followed by Krog's analysis or reaction. Others are hypothetical conversations with different facets of the South Africans she engages with about the Commission. Others still are internal monologues or prose poems. The tone overall is troubled, vulnerable, and also afraid of what the failure of the Commission might mean.

I really admired Krog's willingness to think about her own emotions, reactions and ultimately culpability as a white South African. This is not a book that shies away from much, and I feel like it really captures the confusion, incomprehension, and in some ways insanity, that apartheid engendered and has gifted the country with.

It doesn't have any easy answers - the answers it provides are woefully inadequate for everyone. There's no real arc or narrative, and it's hard to say whether the book ends on a high note or not - there's an inescapable sense of fragility throughout that undermines any idea of closure. Country of My Skull is a big book, and it's demanding, emotionally and mentally.

But this is perhaps the best way - the only way? - to write about the enormity of Apartheid, what it wrought and what that means in the "new" South Africa. Highly recommended. ( )
2 vote patrickgarson | Nov 21, 2012 |
"...This is an astounding work of nonfiction. Antjie is one of South Africa’s most important Afrikaans poets. This was her first full book-length work of English prose. She worked as a journalist for the South African Broadcasting Corporation at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and she went around the country listening to testimony of victims of apartheid and families of people who had been killed by the apartheid security police. And this book is critical for an understanding of South Africa.

She takes you into the raw emotion that exists in South African to this day. And in terms of the emotional aspect, in terms of the feelings, the blood, the open wounds, the heartache and hope and hopelessness she expresses, she does it better than anyone else. She does pepper the book with her own reasons for staying committed to South Africa..." (reviewed by Kevin Bloom in FiveBooks).

The full interview is available here: http://fivebooks.com/interviews/kevin-bloom-on-post-apartheid-identity
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  FiveBooks | Jun 7, 2010 |
  HealeyLibrary | Oct 4, 2007 |
A must read for anyone who wants to grasp the true depth of the complexity of the relationships that exist between peoples of South Africa in the aftermath of Apartheid. ( )
  valkyrieh116 | Jul 27, 2007 |
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For every victim who had an Afrikaner surname on her lips
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Sunk low on their springs, three weathered white Sierras roar past the wrought-iron gates of Parliament.
To seize the surge of language by its soft, bare skull. Beloved, do not die. Do not dare die! I, the survivor, wrap you in words so that the future inherits you. I snatch you from the death of forgetfulness.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812931297, Paperback)

In the year following South Africa's first democratic elections, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to investigate human rights abuses committed under the apartheid regime. Presided over by God's own diplomat, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the first hearings of the commission were held in April 1996. During the following two years of hearings, South Africans were daily exposed to revelations and public testimony about their traumatic past, and--like the world that looked on--continued to discover that the relationship between truth and reconciliation is far more complex than they had ever imagined.

Antjie Krog, a prominent South African poet and journalist, led the South African Broadcasting Corporation team that for two years reported daily on the hearings. Extreme forms of torture, abuse, and state violence were the daily fare of the Truth Commission. Many of those involved with its proceedings, including Krog herself, suffered personal stresses--ill health, mental breakdown, dissolution of relationships--in the face of both the relentless onslaught of the truth and the continuing subterfuges of unrelenting perpetrators. Like the Truth Commission itself, Country of My Skull gives central prominence to the power of the testimony of the victims, combining a journalist's reportage skills with the poet's ability to give voice to stories previously unheard. --Rachel Holmes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:38 -0400)

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