This extraordinary memoir of life under apartheid is a triumph of the human spirit over hatred and unspeakable degradation. For Mark Mathabane did what no physically and psychologically battered "Kaffir" from the rat-infested alleys of Alexandra was supposed to do -- he escaped to tell about it. (Summary from amazon.com - Image from www.marshall.edu)
My Review: I told my husband I’d chosen this book to review for Banned Books Week, and one glance at the cover elicited a “Whoa!! I can tell why that book’s been banned!” from him. He served a two-year mission in South Africa, and “Kaffir” (the Arabic word for “infidel”) has the same connotation as the N-word here.
Kaffir Boy was written during Apartheid’s final years, and I found myself having to remind myself of that. All told, however, it is a difficult read. The conditions forced upon the Africans were atrocious, and the measures that Mathabane’s family and acquaintances had to resort to were unspeakable. It didn’t take long before I saw why this book has been banned, the standard practices and ways of coping with Apartheid were so atrocious, I’m not sure I’d want my (younger) kids reading about it. It was fascinating, however, to read of Mathabane’s “escape” from the Bantu-approved way of life through tennis and education, to relive the townships’ reactions to the death of Steven Bilko, the education riots, and to see Apartheid through Mathabane’s eyes.
Sum it Up: An invaluable history of Apartheid, told by one who survived the worst of it.
My Rating: Four stars for education value. However, I wouldn’t pick it up again.
For the Sensitive Reader: Graphic descriptions of beatings, murder, and illnesses. Mathabane also recounts a near escape of child prostitution. Keep in mind that this novel was written to shock the Western World into realizing how atrocious Apartheid really was.