Done with what is most likely the last book I’ll get in before leaving: My Traitor’s Heart by Rian Malan. (I also read Innumeracy by John Allen Paulos, but I think that I’d have an even smaller audience than usual were I to go off on how people can’t understand basic probability. For the record, though, I think that a basic class on how to understand statistics and probability should replace calculus or trig as a basic high school course. </rant>) It’s a hard read; well-written, but a book that leaves you wondering just what to do with the world.
Rian Malan is a journalist from South Africa, who traces his roots to some foundational Afrikaner figures in South African history. Hence one meaning of the title – he is a white liberal journalist who rejects his Afrikaner background. But as the book goes on, the issue becomes more and more of how deep an issue racism is and has been in South Africa, even for someone who ostensibly rejects it. Want to end apartheid? Want to heal the race divisions? Good – now what do you do? What happens when everyone has become too paranoid to lay down arms? What to do when one is called to take sides, or be tortured and killed? What can be done when even the peace-makers are assassinated – and that by the people they were trying to help? And in the midst of this, what can one do when one discovers that despite one’s own pretensions, one is still scared of and completely ignorant of this other world?
So the “traitor’s heart” is as much about Malan’s own darkness that sabotages every attempt at reconciling the races. But through reading his book, I can’t honestly say I’d do any better. And I have absolutely no idea how to do it better.
Which seems to be the best thing I got out of the book – it disabused me of notions that I can go in and fix things, or that I actually understand the racial tensions in the country.
Now on that note, I have less than 48 hours before I fly off to orientation. Time to get packing. Tomorrow.
(Here’s a link to a longer take on the book: http://galbeckerman.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/divided-soul/)