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There was probably only one person who could make Sarah Barcant, successful prosecutor, leave New York and return home to Smitsrivier, the small town in South Africa she left years before. Ben. Her lawyer mentor and inspiration; the man who encouraged her to get out and know the world now needs her back, to help him with one last case, part of the Truth Commission. In the back of a van, handcuffed, Dirk Hendrickes is being driven to the police station where once he was proud to call himself deputy. Later, down the same hot,dry road, will come Alex Mpondo, alternating between cursing Dirk and feeling sick at the idea of facing him, his torturer. And in Smitsrivier: James Sizela, who has passed years waiting for the moment when the man he is certain killed his son, will be forced to tell where the body lies. The people who are about to meet their pasts will not experience the real truth-telling in the court room, at the public show. The real truth will be felt offstage...

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781860499159
ISBN-10: 1860499155
Format: Paperback
(196mm x 126mm x 23mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: Virago Press Ltd
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 3-Jan-2002
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


UK Kirkus Review » Truth and reconciliation may be buzzwords of today's South Africa, but both are in short supply in Smitsrivier, childhood home to Sarah Barcant, prosecutor, who returns there when summoned by her mentor, Ben Hoffman, to solve a mysterious disappearance that took place 13 years earlier. Sarah's assumptions and interrogation techniques, honed in New York and the US justice system, quickly founder when employed in the context of compromise and bitterness that charaterizes contemporary South Africa. Landscape, weather and unsuitable footwear underline her culture shock; the red dust of the book's title, brilliant blue skies and blazing sun all serve to emphasize the contrast between her birthplace and her adopted home - whose inhabitants work to completely different rules. Portraying the inner worlds of characters who might easily be perceived as monsters if viewed purely externally, Slovo explores their motives in a way which renders them comprehensible and takes full account of their humanity without absolving them of responsibility. Her characters are implicity measured against each other by their self-awareness and willingness to take responsibility for the choices they have made, however driven by circumstance they might have been. Slovo so convincingly evokes the legacy of apartheid and the scars it has left on the psyches of all South Africans that reading this book is a deeply moving experience. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Slovo ("Every Secret Thing", 1997, etc.), daughter of South African activists, unconvincingly mixes conventional takes on big ideas-truth, justice, responsibility-with a breathless criminal investigation of a young man's death during Apartheid. The setting is a dusty, fly-blown town, Smitsrivier, where the famous Truth Commission is meeting to grant amnesty, when appropriate, to those on both sides who committed political crimes under the old regime. Sarah Barcant has been summoned back from New York, where she's now a prosecutor, by her mentor Ben Hoffman. Ben inspired her to become a lawyer, but he's now dying and wants help in uncovering the truth about Steve Sizela's death. Steve's parents are not bent on revenge, wanting only to find his body and bury him properly. For testimony, the Commission calls Dirk Hendricks, a former Security policeman serving time for his offenses and now seeking amnesty. Another witness, Alex Mpondo-a friend of Steve's, a former political prisoner, and now a Member of Parliament-has also been asked to testify. Alex is reluctant, fearing, as Sarah does, that Hendricks may have broken under torture during his interrogation and fingered Steve for hiding a cache of weapons. As Sarah, who is also attracted to Alex, tries to establish what really happened to Steve, she realizes that the reality is much more complicated. While Hendricks, determined to get out of prison, offers information he deems helpful to himself, Pieter Muller, a local farmer, former policeman, and pillar of the community, is subpoenaed-but then dies in what is said to be a suicide. Compromised truths bring a measure of closure and bitter consolation, but, as Sarah realizes, an ordinary life here is still impossible: "[The] contours of heroism, sacrifice, and guilt were so much a piece of everything South African." Well intended, but still less persuasively compelling than much nonfiction about the Commission. (Kirkus Reviews)

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Author Biography - Gillian Slovo

Gillian Slovo (father Joe Slovo, mother Ruth First) was educated in Britain where she has spent all her adult life. Since Nelson Mandela's release she has made frequent visits to South Africa. She has written seven books.

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