Apartheid is a word you will have heard almost immediately upon moving to South Africa, or perhaps even earlier. It is of Afrikaans origin and means, roughly, the separation and classification of people according to race. It’s a term inextricably linked with South Africa’s fascinating history. I’ve talked a little bit about Apartheid before:
I’ve told you about the Apartheid Museum. It’s the best place, should you find yourself in Johannesburg, to learn more about it.
I’ve told you about the history of Apartheid and how, in its day, it led to such strange concepts as the term Honorary White for American black dignitaries visiting the country.
I’ve told you about Robben Island, the place where Nelson Mandela spent a good portion of his life languishing in prison as a result of his acts of defiance and sabotage in opposition to the policy of Apartheid.
You might think that these stories are bleak, but they are not. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud more than a few times. I was reminded of Roald Dahl and his plot twists that often end in the macabre. Yes, there is human tragedy, fueled by the suspicion and fear Apartheid stirred in people, but there is so much more in this book. The relationships between the people in these stories are beautifully described, and the character development is exquisite. I also enjoyed the lively dialog, peppered with some wonderful Afrikaans phrases.
The Right Papers is not a condemnation of Apartheid, even though it will give you more than a glimpse into what living under its yoke was like. It is a celebration of everyday people, of the stubborn striving for daily survival, of the ingenuity of regular people in the face of insurmountable obstacles. And it is yet another wonderful snapshot of life in Africa.