A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique Lapierre
|A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique Lapierre|
|Category: Politics and Society|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: An interesting and well-researched account of South African history from 1652 to 1994. Particularly strong on the African National Congress' thirty year struggle against white supremacy and apartheid.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 288||Date: March 2010|
|Publisher: Da Capo|
A book integrating otherwise piecemeal news stories picked up over the past forty years into a coherent explanation is always welcome. This book explores South Africa's history and development, from the earliest Dutch arrivals in 1652 to the first racially integrated elections in 1994.
The Dutch East India Company established Capetown as a small trading post to supply passing ships with fresh produce to prevent scurvy. Within fifty years, it had become a successful colony of 25,000 inhabitants. A breakaway group of Boers left on a Great Trek, in search of religious freedom. What they found was an indigenous population already in possession of the land. The Afrikaners believed The Bible justified their European assumptions of domination over the native population, that it followed a natural order. Using European weapons, the Boers fought their way to ownership; hardship and determination were etched into the national consciousness through this struggle.
Within the global context of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Afrikaner political philosophy wasn't particularly extreme. Every nation in the nineteenth century celebrated military conquests, carving the world into subservient colonies. Europe shamefully exploited Africa's mineral and human resources for its own aggrandisement.
Young Boers, invited to study in Germany in the 1930's, observed the patriotic frenzy Hitler stirred up when he spoke. His leadership and political philosophy of white racial supremacy made a huge impact. Hitler's success convinced them that they should adopt similarly hard line measures against the native black Africans and Asian Indians who formed the majority population in South Africa. Described as giving different ethnic groups opportunities to develop in their own way, an apartheid society was soon an excuse for the brutalization of a nation. As with pre-War Germany, it's difficult to draw the line between patriotism, over-developed righteousness and outright evil.
It's soon obvious where the author's sympathies lay. He records some of the sadistic policing meted out to Black activists. He describes the small pockets of liberal integration rooted out and destroyed as Blacks were herded into squalid townships. He counts the handful of determined opponents to apartheid, like Desmond Tutu, whose international credentials gave them some licence in criticising the system.
The early part of the book was relevant but fairly dry, and I thought I might struggle to make the finish. I needn't have worried. The story took off about a third through, with the formation of the African National Congress. The history of the ANC is above all the story of Nelson Mandela and for those who haven't read Long Walk to Freedom, this book provides a primer on the life of the most famous South African of all. I would have liked a critical appraisal of the progress made in the past twenty years since Mandela left prison to lead his country. Particularly I wanted more of an assessment of the problems still remaining, rather than the rose-tinted view on offer.
This is a serious and weighty work albeit not intended for an academic audience. From a general interest level and readability point of view it could be tackled by good GCSE level students and above. I wouldn't be concerned at letting interested young teenagers read this book. The brutality is recorded in enough detail for us to be clear what happened and to understand how harrowing were the Truth and Reconciliation hearings for survivors, but it's never gratuitous.
The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.
Two novels with troubled South African settings are Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward and Ruby Red by Linzi Glass. For more about Africa - in fact and fiction - have a look at Top Ten Books About Africa.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique Lapierre at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy A Rainbow in the Night by Dominique Lapierre at Amazon.com.
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