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COUNTRY OF MY SKULL by Antjie Krog

COUNTRY OF MY SKULL

Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa

By Antjie Krog

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8129-3128-9
Publisher: Times/Henry Holt

This searing examination is a compelling achievement that considers the nature of guilt, shame, and forgiveness in post-apartheid South Africa, yet also sometimes feels exactly like what it is—a series of clumsily stitched-together news reports. For more than two years, South African radio reporter and esteemed poet Krog covered the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s investigations into crimes committed on all sides in the name of apartheid. Headed by the Nobel Prize—winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the commission held out the promise of complete amnesty, but only in return for complete honesty about each and every offense. Hearings were held all around the country, with victims and their families able to confront their torturers. The testimony was painfully riveting, and Krog includes vast, uninterpolated swaths of accounts of bombings, beatings, rapes, and murder squads. She details expertly the effects of such terrible revelations on white South Africans, most of whom had never thought (or wanted to think) about the true cost of sustaining apartheid; what had once seemed to them like standard-issue authoritarianism eventually was viewed as unmitigated evil, reminiscent of nothing so much as Nazi Germany. Although the Truth Commission itself has been criticized for a relatively lenient treatment of the African National Congress, Krog is not blind to the anti-apartheid opposition’s own multifarious brutalities. However, she is so focused on the particularities and intricacies of the South African experience that many general readers will find substantial chunks of this book somewhat inaccessible, despite a concluding glossary of South African terms and brief bios. Krog’s poetic and reportorial gifts often serve her well—her lapidary profundity and keen-edged analysis are frequently superb. Still, she fails to craft them into a sustained or focused narrative. Like the truth itself, a messy, imposing sprawl.