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My Traitor's Heart: A South African Exile Returns to Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience [Hardcover]

Rian Malan
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

24 Aug 1989
Rian Malan's family settled in South Africa in 1689. In 1948 his great uncle Daniel Malan, the architect of apartheid, became the first Afrikaner nationalist prime minister. Rian left the country for eight years in 1977. This book is the passionate account of what he found upon his return.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 349 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press (24 Aug 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 087113229X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871132291
  • Product Dimensions: 23 x 16.4 x 3.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 564,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Rian Malan has written a tragic masterpiece and a classic of our time" (Time Out)

"My Traitor's Heart is a tremendous book about candour, honour and race, a witness-bearing act of the rarest courage. No one who reads it could ever forget it" (Michael Herr)

"A tortured, mesmerising attempt to capture exactly the conflicts of [Malan’s] upbringing, conflicts that went to the soul of the emerging nation." (Guardian)

"The remorseless exercise of a reporter's anguished conscience gives us a South Africa we thought we knew all about: but we knew nothing" (John Le Carre)

"A great swirling devil of a book and it is equal in every way to its vast subject - the black and white country of the heart" (Don DeLillo) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

Hailed as a masterpiece around the world, this exploration of apartheid’s legacy is horrifying yet beautiful, harrowing yet hopeful. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
I'm burned out and starving to death, so I'm just going to lay this all upon you and trust that you're a visionary reader, because the grand design, such as it is, is going to be hard for you to see. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
I could not put this book down for a moment. This book was a truly shocking-at-times portrayal of the atrocities that occurred in South Africa in the '80s. It made me very emotional and some parts of it were very, very difficult to read because they were graphic, intense and very real. It made me feel so sad for the brutal history that has touched all South Africans, but this book also made me hopeful for their future. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know both sides of the sadness in SA.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
At times too heartbreaking to read, at times full of hope, but all the way through powerful and fascinating. Malan's honesty and bravery in portraying the political situation in South Africa under Apartheid is an eye-opener . I have never read such a moving story.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars slightly misleading 3 Nov 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Firstly, I am a English speaking South African raised in a home that was fairly liberal with the exception that our mantelpiece had a bust of Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener with a portrait of Jun Smuts on the wall, something I never had the chance to discuss with my father. My mother and father separated when I was 5 and I was raised by my Zulu nanny who I loved and respected as I would my own mother.
I left South Africa my home 15 years ago and now live in France.
Reading this book has opened many wounds and also, find myself asking a few questions. I was unable to put the book down and going through it, I looked back on what I was so a part of. I was there.
I feel that the author has been unnecessarily brutal in the way he has portrayed the Afrikaners, even attacking the language. Let's make no marbles about it, apartheid was the most evil system of oppression one could imagine, but, it was not the start of the oppression of the black man. We have colonialism to thank for that. Like so many dictatorships, many were led and influenced by the few. Not all of us were in the position to pack our bags and draft dodge for 8 years.
Do not be fooled into believing that the west had no part through out those years in upholding the Nationalist Government whilst it suited their policies and pockets. Colonialism has raped and plundered Africa and the Aid we now give them is a pittance of what they deserve. In my opinion the Afrikaner is as much an African as the Zulu, Xhosa or Shangaan. At this moment I would not want to find my self being an Afrikaner in South Africa.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone should read this book! 2 Jun 2004
As an avid follower of all things South African I have a shelf full of literature by the countrys' best known novelists..some being booker and Nobel peace prize winners.Rian Malan is undoubtedly a genius..His journey through the turbulent and striking era of apartheid is told with breathtaking splendidness. His thought processes are totally unique and he automatically encourages the reader to consider how it must feel to be an Afikaaner in post apartheid South Africa. He has a lesson to teach everyone and I urge anyone,even those with little interest in racism and race oppression to give this book a go...He is quite simply one of the best Afrikaans literarys in the 21 st century.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unfolding a tale of Unimaginable Complexity 22 Jan 2006
By A Customer
A lesser writer would not have been able to keep dishing up such appalling facts without driving his readers away. Malan's genetic legacy, his recognition of the conflicts in his own mind and his clear and genuine love of a country whose peoples (all of them) have such violent and confused histories enable him to offer an astounding perspective on his homeland.
His ability to put forth horrific story after horrific story and put them into some sort of context in which he tries to make sense of things is spell binding. This is a difficult read but a rewarding one. Although one's comfortable liberal mind always realised there was more to the South Africa story than a simple good/bad divide it takes an incisive mind to start to lay bare some of the underlying facts which are still relevent in the "new" South Africa and go a long way to explaining why post apartheid governments still have an uphill struggle in trying to unite the many nations of which it is comprised.
The only question is, when can we hope for a similarly reasoned and insightful "take" on events today - more or less 20 years on - please Mr Malan, where is your afterword because I am sure I am not alone in wanting to know where your thoughts have taken you since completing "My Traitor's Heart"
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant 4 Oct 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It's hard to imagine that someone can write a fairly long, factually dense history of South Africa in such an engaging, page-turning way. Considering that the subject matter is about as heavyweight as it gets, Malan's deft writing style carries you along effortlessly and the going never gets tough - well, not in a literary sense, although the tales he tells certainly pack a visceral punch. It's the kind of book where I found myself reading bits out loud to anyone who would listen - it's jam-packed full of stories, facts and figures that are simply shocking and stunning. And for those of us who stood on the sidelines at tutted at the existence and subsequent demise of the repelent apartheid system, it makes uneasy reading. Certainly,it's a book that's had me researching more closely certain aspects of the history of South Africa. The way the Biko and Mandela factions waged war on one another was particularly interesting and something I knew nothing about. I would without doubt have given this fantastic book a maximum 5 stars but for the fact that I felt it loses its way a bit just before the end, where we find Malan philosophising just a little too much - his words carry more impact when they hit you right between the eyes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 3 months ago by Eric Boisseau
5.0 out of 5 stars My traitors heart
Well written and insightful. It was written before the end of apartheid and many of the author's fears have not come to pass in the past 25 years
Published 8 months ago by Pete
5.0 out of 5 stars Execelent
Very well written and covered a broad base oof Soth African hierachy,Remember it is a series of articles written for world newspapers and not a complete boob
Published 17 months ago by shamshudin
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking
Absolutely loved this book .. So well written. Made me understand the African mindset more thoroughly and to understand that tribalism is too strong for things to move forward in... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Sally Jenkinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
This book provided an interesting insight into the final days of apartheid. Anecdotes from people, both black and white, brutually affected by the regime were well documented. Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2012 by Bert
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, illuminating, unputdownable!
This book encapsulates a poignant slice of human history in a very engaging way. There can't be many books that tell so much in so short a space. Read more
Published on 11 Sep 2010 by James Penhaligon
5.0 out of 5 stars My Traitor's Heart,Rian Malan
This is one of the best books I have ever read.Having read alot of books about apartheid, this is a real, moving and honest account of the struggles South Africa continue to face. Read more
Published on 20 Aug 2010 by Elaine A
4.0 out of 5 stars An Important Book
I can recommend this book to anyone interested in the terrible human cost of Apartheid. Written at the time Mandela was released from prison it describes the last years of... Read more
Published on 5 May 2010 by E. Kraft
5.0 out of 5 stars My Traitor's Heart
One of my favorite books of all time. Meaningful and full of insight into both an individual and collective plight.
Published on 3 May 2010
5.0 out of 5 stars Scarily good
Apparently this guy never wrote another book after this one. He was scared he couldn't live up to the expectations after this debut. I can understand where he's coming from. Read more
Published on 10 Mar 2009 by JWA Drennan
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