Friday, June 3, 2016

We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun- Book Review

I received this ebook for free from NetGalley for review. I am not obligated to post a positive review nor has my review been influenced in any way by NetGalley. I am just obligated to alert the reader. Consider yourself alerted.

There is a story in South Africa that is held up by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission-

In the last days of apartheid, a young white woman helping orphans by the name of Amy Biehl is brutally murdered in a crowd of African liberation fighters outside of Cape Town. Her car, filled with her friends, is surrounded, she is pulled out of the car, beaten with rocks, and finally stabbed in the heart. Great crowds witness the event, but no one does anything about it. 

Four men are convicted for her murder.

Her parents travel to South Africa, reach out to two of the murders, Easy and Ntobeko, forgive them, raise them as their own children, and start a foundation for Amy to help combat violence. Amy is held up as a hero throughout all of South Africa post apartheid. 

It is a wonderful story of reconciliation and hope.

In We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun, the question is asked- Did this really happen this way or is it simply a propaganda story? For four years Van der Leun interviewed as many players as she could find to get to the truth of the story about Amy. She not only interviews the main players, but interviews witnesses, and friends of Amy.  She gives an extensive history of South Africa, apartheid, and what it was like in the 90s for Africans and for white people in South Africa. She looks at race relations and a deep history of institutional racism. You will know about South Africa, Amy's story, and apartheid by the time you are done reading this.

I will state that I received a galley proof, so what I read may not be the final proof that the general public reads. I state this because there were times I became a bit frustrated while reading the book. I was frustrated because in the middle of a story, she will go into a history aspect of South Africa or apartheid. For example, she finally gets ahold of Easy to interview him, he starts telling his story, and right in the middle of it, she goes into history for about 2-3 ebook pages, and then comes back to the story. The history was important, but it interrupted the flow of the narrative to the point of distraction. There were quite a number of instances of this happening.

There is also a lot of information. In the print form, according to Amazon, the book is 544 pages. On my ebook version it was 413 pages. This is a long book that is so extensively researched that it might be too researched. This isn't a complaint about the information as it is interesting, but it comes to a point where it may have been a bit too extensive, if that makes sense. I felt it could have been edited down just a bit with the story made just a bit tighter.

Personally, I did not have a great knowledge about this story, but from the book I learned how important this story is to the narrative of South Africa and how poking one's nose into it to ask questions about it, could fire up a group of people. I can imagine the reaction to this book will be similar to when The Spitting Image by Jerry Lembcke looked at the myth of Vietnam Vets being spit on after returning from war. Lembcke finds that no interviewed vets had this happen to them or witnessed it ever happening to their friends. It just became true as the myth grew. Van der Leun asks the difficult questions to get to the truth to a story that has a lot of myth around it. 

I rated this a high 3.5 stars. Excellent information, but simply too much of it. Here is the Amazon link- We Are Not Such Things by Justine van der Leun

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