Number by Jonny Steinberg
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By Jonny Steinberg

The Number

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Format: Paperback

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Number by Jonny Steinberg

Book Awards

  • Winner of Alan Paton Award 2005.
  • Shortlisted for South African Booksellers' Choice Award 2005.

Book Description

On 9 June 2003, a 43-year-old coloured man named Magadien Wentzel walked out of Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. Behind him lay a lifelong career in the 28s, South Africa's oldest and most reviled prison gang, for decades rumoured to have specialised in rape and robbery. In front of him lay the prospect of a law-abiding future, and life in a household of eight adults and six children, none of whom earned a living. Jonny Steinberg met Wentzel in prison in the dying months of 2002. By the time Wentzel was released, he and Steinberg had spent over 50 hours discussing his life experiences. The Number is an account of their conversations and of Steinberg's journeys to the places and people of Wentzel's past. Wentzel had lived a bewilderingly schizophrenic life, wandering to and fro between three worlds: the arcane universe of prison gangs, steeped in a mythology of banditry and retribution, where he was known as JR; the fringes of South Africa's criminal economy, where he lived by a string of stolen names and learned the arts of commercial fraud; and his scattered family which eked out a living in the coloured ghettos of the Cape Flats. "The Number" visits each of those worlds in turn. It is a tale of modern South Africa's historic events seen through the eyes of the country's underclass. Surprisingly, perhaps, it is neither a story of passivity nor despair, but of beguiling ingenuity and cool cynicism. Most of all, the book is an account of memory and identity, of Wentzel's project to make some sense of his bewildering past and something worthy of his future. When Steinberg met him, Wentzel was embarking on a quest to retrieve the name he had been given at birth. He was also beginning the daunting task of gathering together the estranged children he had sired into a nuclear family. It was an eccentric and painful venture for a man with his past, but it has led him to construct an account of himself that begs to be told.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781868422333
ISBN-10: 186842233X
Format: Paperback
(125mm x 200mm x mm)
Pages: 440
Imprint: Jonathan Ball Publishers SA
Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers SA
Publish Date: 5-Sep-2005
Country of Publication: South Africa

Other Editions...

Books By Author Jonny Steinberg

Man of Good Hope by Jonny Steinberg Man of Good Hope, Paperback (January 2016)

When Asad was eight years old, his mother was shot in front of him. With his father in hiding, he was swept alone into the great wartime migration that has scattered the Somali people throughout the world. This book tells his story.

Little Liberia by Jonny Steinberg Little Liberia, Paperback (January 2012)

On Park Hill Avenue in New York City, almost everyone is Liberian. Many fled here, survivors of a brutal civil war that claimed the lives of one in fourteen Liberians. But even an ocean away, the baggage of the past is difficult to leave behind. This title traces the tensions between two men, Rufus and Jacob, with very different pasts.

Three Letter Plague by Jonny Steinberg Three Letter Plague, Paperback (December 2008)

At the end of a steep gravel road in one of the remotest corners of South Africa's Eastern Cape lies the village of Ithanga. Home to a few hundred villagers, the majority of them unemployed, it is inconceivably poor. This title explores the lives of a community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of the plague, the African AIDS epidemic.

From Comrades to Citizens by Jonny Steinberg From Comrades to Citizens, Hardback (April 2003)

Charts the rise and fall of the urban townships' youth and residents' 'civics movement' in the transition to, and consolidation of a democracy in South Africa.

» View all books by Jonny Steinberg


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Author Biography - Jonny Steinberg

Jonny Steinberg was educated at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and at Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. He is the only South African author to have won the Sunday Times Alan Paton award for literary non-fiction twice. He has worked as a journalist for Business Day and a collection of the best of his columns, Notes from a Fractured Country, was published in 2007.

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