A journalist and author from Johannesburg uses maps to retrace the boundaries of his boyhood, the dimensions of apartheid and the geography of imagination.
Gevisser, who has published previously about his native country (A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream, 2009, etc.) and wrote the script for the documentary The Man Who Drove with Mandela (1999), returns with an intimate journey through his life, a journey that took a wicked detour in January 2012 when he and two close friends suffered a brutal home invasion. The author begins with some brief pages about the event, mentions it again a few times in the ensuing narrative (it swims, sharklike, just below the surface of the text), then focuses on it in a 40-page section near the end. The author, who is Jewish and gay, writes affectingly about both these aspects of his life, but it was geography, initially, that consumed him as a boy. He loved to play a self-invented game called “Dispatcher,” in which he used a map book to imagine lives and journeys; he often played for hours per day. (The game returns in the final section of his text.) Gradually, Gevisser guides us through his life—his family, schooling, travels, love of books and writing, and his dawning awareness of his sexual orientation, apartheid and danger. He includes many maps and photographs, some of which sent him into library archives. He includes accounts of his interviews with people from all walks of Johannesburg life, including a woman who guided him through the township of Alexandra. The home-invasion section is wrenching to read—though the author had the resources to visit therapists and to get away into the mountains with his partner, whom he refers to only as “C.”
An often moving account of the ways we navigate our emotional and geographical landscapes.