Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Glen Retief, THE JACK BANK: A MEMOIR OF A SOUTH AFRICAN CHILDHOOD
This memoir is very engaging--and by turns harrowing, insightful, other-worldly. Retief's father is a computer programmer for the research department at Kruger National Park in South Africa, so among other things young Retief learns that there are 517 varieties of birds in the park and how it feels to come to school and find four lions on the basketball courts. The plot arc that governs the book, it seems to me, is Retief learning (or mislearning) about the links among sexuality, race, and violence and then unlearning them. So if at age 12 he links sexuality (and homosexuality) with violence because of the white prefect John who sexually and physically abuses him at his boarding school (I was physically wincing through this section), he unlearns the link later and begins to connect sexuality with love. Several times he writes about "that great cycle of apartheid violence--the apparatus whereby white boys are bullied when young so that they later they will know how to beat blacks into continued submission." I don't mean to make this sound like a "teaching" memoir--it's compulsively readable--but it provided a window into a world I don't know.