THE MIRROR AT MIDNIGHT: A South African Journey by Adam Hochschild

THE MIRROR AT MIDNIGHT: A South African Journey

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Although somewhat overtaken by events, Hochschild's new book does offer some fresh insight into the current South African situation. And, in an updated epilogue, it notes the changes that have occurred in the past few months. Hochschild (Half the Way Home, 1986) first visited South Africa as a teen-ager, when he accompanied his wealthy industrialist father on a business trip there. Thirty years later, in 1988, he returned to write a book that would focus on the role and significance of the historic Battle of Blood River, the 150th anniversary of which was to be celebrated at the end of the year. For on December 16th, 1838, the Boer leaders made a covenant that if God granted them victory over the Zulus they would not only build a church in commemoration, but would forever keep the day secret. The ensuing battle, as well as the vow that preceded it, has become a central feature of Afrikaner mythology, since it confirmed the Afrikaners' belief that they were the chosen people of God. As Hochschild visits the historical places associated with the battle and the Great Trek into the interior of South Africa that led up to it, he meets with contemporary black and white anti-apartheid activists, attends a treason trial, and talks with right-wing Afrikaners. The day before he leaves the country, he attends the special anniversary commemoration in Pretoria, but the celebrations are muted: Afrikanerdom is divided, and the blacks are demanding redress. A journalist rather than historian, Hochschild is more comfortable in the present than the past. But by using the Blood River story as his focus, he thoughtfully and vividly demonstrates the deep-rooted complexities of South African life.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Viking