Antjie Krog ruined my holiday. Her 1998 book, ‘Country of My Skull’ had been on my to-read list for some time. When I took a few days leave recently, I thought I’d take the opportunity to tick it off. It ticked me off. It gave me nightmares – every night. Horrid ones. Credit to Antjie, she writes well – so well I often didn’t want to stop reading. But it’s the subject matter that’s disturbing. ‘Country of My Skull’ is Krog’s reporting on the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a court-like commission tasked with discovering and revealing past injustices that took place under the apartheid government.
I enjoyed the way the book mixed up the often heavy, and sometimes dull, details of the TRC’s findings, with exhilarating real-life stories. It begins with a story of Krog’s brothers shooting at cattle thieves on their farm. This story stands out to me as being particularly insightful into what was going on in South Africa at that time, and to a large degree still is. The books ends with a similar, but different story, of Krog sharing Christmas with her family on their Free State farm. This time instead of being the hunter, they are in fear of being the hunted – there is panic when a car stops outside the farm and a black man approaches the farmhouse. He turns out to be a friend come to wish them a merry Christmas.
This book is crucial to understanding the history of South Africa. Would I recommend it? It’s not for the faint-hearted, but then neither is the history of the world.