Part of South Africa’s confused story

2007-12-19 00:00

At first, Richard Poplak’s memoir about life in apartheid South Africa didn’t grab me — a white man pontificating about his life as a demi-god and the destruction it causes is a little too close to home. It is is also part of a prolific genre. This book, though, is good. Perhaps it is because the author doesn’t live here anymore.

Poplak, who left the country for Canada at the fall of apartheid, details the life of a young boy growing up in urban South Africa from 1973 to 1989, bringing with it an understanding of the way of life of so many privileged brats.

Poplak has done his research — he worked four gruelling months in South Africa — and manages to synergise memories and realities together to form a flowing story that keeps your attention fixed. By successfully putting his story together, Poplak has entered the South African narrative and, as he explains, it’s just part of the greater confused story: “I dip my toe into the fast-running water of the South African narrative and instantly I’m swept into the roaring confusion.”

The author tackles issues with such veracity that you can see his Jo’burg home and its mighty boerboel leaping out at you. You can hear the vacuum cleaner screeching through the house as the domestic worker dodges the author’s pranks. You can smell the classroom where he learns how to be a good participant in the regime. You can feel the pain, the anxiety and the fear that what is supposed to be ideal, simply is not.

Poplak has joined the fast-flowing current that is the South African narrative, and his perspective highlights that of so many, but really so few.

Ja, no, man, this book deserves a read.

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