Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Reflecting on My South African Past

I just finished reading an excellent book set in Kenya, Away from You by Melanie Finn. Although I'm from South Africa, it struck so many chords with me: the common history of our countries and the brutally honest way the author deals with it, interwoven with strong characterisation and the most lyrical prose. It's not often I read a book and wish it wouldn't end!

It's good to be connected back up to my African past: something it's easy to forget in my day-to-day city life in Brighton. I grew up in a place of contradictions, and that is what this book so accurately conveys: the poverty alongside wealth and greed, the beauty beside appalling devastation, and the love/hate relationship its own natives often have with the continent. Like the main character, I am also living in a land that is not my native one. Yet I have acclimatised to it so well, I'm scarcely aware of this most of the time.

When I try to explain race relations in South Africa and the phenomenon of white guilt to my partner, it all seems so obvious to me: but incomprehensible to him. Which is why it was so refreshing to read this book and feel at home in an idiom where I don't have to explain myself.

I don't miss South Africa much anymore; when I do, it's more my own personal memories of the place, and my childhood and university days, that I think about, rather than the country itself. I have an ambivalent relationship with it to say the least. I wanted to move to England since I was a teenager, and idealised the country. Watching snippets of the film This is England last night, I realised how foreign this country still is to me, in many ways.

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