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Home » Books » Nonfiction » Social Sciences » Race Relations

Every Secret Thing

My Family, My Country

By Gillian Slovo

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Format: Paperback, 384 pages
Other Information: Illustrated
Published In: United Kingdom, 01 August 2009
A passionate witness to the colossal upheaval that has transformed her native South Africa, Gillian Slovo has written a memoir that is far more than a story of her own life. For she is the daughter of Joe Slovo and Ruth First, South Africa's pioneering anti-apartheid white activists, a daughter who always had to come second to political commitment. Whilst recalling the extraordinary events which surrounded her family's persecution and exile, and reconstructing the truth of her parents' relationship and her own turbulent childhood, Gillian Slovo has also created an astonishing portrait of a courageous, beautiful mother and a father of integrity and stoicism.

Promotional Information

*The deeply moving memoir of the Slovo family which also encompasses much of the story of the Apartheid years.


About the Author

Gillian Slovo recently adapted TIES OF BLOOD, a fictional work about South Africa, into a six part series for the BBC. Since Nelson Mandela's release she has made frequent visits to South Africa (she wrote a piece for the THE GUARDIAN on the run up to the election).


"In most families, it is the children who leave home. In mine it was the parents." So writes Gillian Slovo, the daughter of white South Africa's most famous radical couple: Ruth First and Joe Slovo. Now in her 40s, Gillian attempts to find answers to questions that resonate as if from a Nadine Gordimer novel: How much did her communist parents, who were fighting apartheid horrors, owe their three neglected children? Her perspective is less one of bitterness than ache, coupled with the psychological curiosity of the novelist she is. Gillian first reconstructs the circumstances of her mother's 1982 death by letter bomb (via South African agents) in Mozambique, then delves into her own dislocated youth, when her mother was detained by the state and the family's modus operandi was secrecy. In 1990, Joe Slovo returned to South Africa as one of the African National Congress's top negotiators; he later became the new government's housing minister. Once white South Africa's bogeyman, he was now lionized. But the pensive Gillian, down from London, finds her father resistant to talking about his past. Only after Joe dies peacefully does Gillian find out some family secrets: mutual infidelities, a half-brother fathered by Joe. Also, she has a remarkable confrontation with the evasive ex-cop who helped send that letter bomb. In the end of this fluid, often fascinating memoir, Gillian does find peace, judging her parents less harshly and feeling pride in the country, her country, that her parents did help save. (May)

'A luminous achievement' OBSERVER 'Wonderfully moving ... anger, frustration, and the hunger for sharing wash her pages, though they never swamp the admiration for her parents' GUARDIAN 'Gillian Slovo has written a brave book, as unsparing of herself as it is of her parents ... a moving testimony' Christopher Hope, INDEPENDENT An extraordinary expression of the very nature of loving, which illuminates, with the anger and tenderness of deep emotion, that human territory we all occupy, and where we conceal so much from ourselves' Nadine Gordimer 'If it doesn't become one of 1997's bestsellers we can only deduce that the reading public has lost its marbles.' Dervla Murphy 'A brave book... guilt, longing, envy are all present, but so are love, courage and stoicism in the face of danger.' MARIE CLAIRE 'An intriguing journey... a fine book.' SCOTSMAN 'An enthralling story about the cruelties of compassion, the anguish of loss and the courage to pursue the truth that brings its own peace.' OBSERVER 'Others have written about this remarkable family... but no one as painfully or as frankly as this book. Nowhere else have I seen the personal cost of political commitments so starkly portrayed.' MAIL ON SUNDAY 'A beautiful examination of the ties that bind a couple- principle, passion, power, pain... Excellent.' TIME OUT 'Told with a powerful, underplayed directness.' SCOTLAND ON SUNDAY 'A painfully honest tale.' ECONOMIST 'This is a valuable book which speaks for a generation of white South Africans whose parents fought the injustices of apartheid, often with terrible personal consequences.' SPECTATOR

EAN: 9781844085996
ISBN: 1844085996
Publisher: Virago Press (UK)
Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.2 x 2.5 centimetres (0.30 kg)
Age Range: 15+ years
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