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Red Dust: TV Tie-in [Paperback]

Gillian Slovo
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Jan 2002

There was probably only one person who could make Sarah Barcant, successful prosecutor, leave New York and return home to Smitsrivier, the small town in South Africa she left years before. Ben. Her lawyer mentor and inspiration; the man who encouraged her to get out and know the world now needs her back, to help him with one last case, part of the Truth Commission.

In the back of a van, handcuffed, Dirk Hendrickes is being driven to the police station where once he was proud to call himself deputy. Later, down the same hot,dry road, will come Alex Mpondo, alternating between cursing Dirk and feeling sick at the idea of facing him, his torturer. And in Smitsrivier: James Sizela, who has passed years waiting for the moment when the man he is certain killed his son, will be forced to tell where the body lies. The people who are about to meet their pasts will not experience the real truth-telling in the court room, at the public show. The real truth will be felt offstage...

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Red Dust: TV Tie-in + Every Secret Thing: My Family, My Country + An Honourable Man
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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Virago; New Ed edition (3 Jan 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860499155
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860499159
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 174,322 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Red Dust follows Gillian Slovo's remarkable memoir Every Secret Thing. The novel tells the story of what happens to Smitsrivier, a small town in the Karroo when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to visit. Sarah Barcant, a successful prosecutor now living in New York is summoned back to help her former mentor discover what happened to a young black activist, Steve Sizela. Steve's comrade, Alex Mpondo, will give testimony against a crony of the policeman suspected in the matter of Steve's disappearance and it is hoped that this will provide an opportunity to break the case. Slovo tracks the changes in South African political power dynamics adroitly. Here is an encounter between the former torturer now in the dock and his victim:
Not just any man, Alex Mpondo. Alex who was smart in a black suit and a flash yellow shirt that looked like it might have been sewn from silk ... The changes covered every aspect of the man. He seemed taller, more confident, more at ease and even slightly fatter ... Dirk shook himself. Prison must be making him stupid. What else had he expected? Mpondo was no longer a prisoner. He was an MP. No wonder he looked different.
While the moral universe of the novel is a complex one--the double-crossings and uncertainties allow Red Dust to read like a thriller, and no-one gets off lightly--the characters themselves feel somewhat schematic. We have also met them all before in more compelling guises. James Sizela, the missing Steve's father is something straight out of Alan Paton's Cry the Beloved Country. Pieter Muller, the murderous policeman, is a loving husband and an upright family man. While Red Dust is a rollicking good read, perhaps it moves a little too fast, risking becoming Truth and Reconciliation lite in the process. --Neville Hoad --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


A rich, ambitious and powerful novel. (THE TIMES)

This is a beautifully written novel, with the pace and twists of a thriller and the atmosphere, scents and space of Africa. (GUARDIAN)

Covers the territory of Bernard Schlink's post-Holocaust novel The Reader as well as J.M. Coetzee's Booker-winning Disgrace. (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH)

Red Dust follows Gillian Slovo's remarkable memoir Every Secret Thing. The novel tells the story of what happens to Smitsrivier, a small town in the Karroo when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to visit. Sarah Barcant, a successful prosecuto (Not just any man, Alex Mpondo. Alex who was smart in a black suit and a flash yellow shirt that looked like it might have been sewn from silk ... The changes covered every aspect of the man. He seemed taller, more confident, more at ease and even slightly)

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SARAH GLANCED DOWN, watching as her black suede ankle boots clipped up the subway stairs. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
As someone who spent sometime in South Africa in the last few years, I was interested to read some fiction about the Truth and Reconciliation hearings. This was a good start. The author describes the hearing from several points of view which gives an insight into the different expectations people have.
The descriptions of an African town were superb and it brought me back immediately to similar places that I visited.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Post Apartheid South Africa 28 Feb 2005
Sarah Barcant is a successful young lawyer in New York who grew up in Smitrivier, South Africa. One day she gets a call from Ben Hoffman, a retired lawyer who used to be Sarah's professional mentor, asking her to come back to Smitrivier to take up a case. And so after fourteen years, Sarah returns to the town where she grew up to do Ben a favour because she thinks she owes him so much. A policeman, Pieter Muller, is suspected of having killed James Sizela's son Steve during the Apartheid. Muller's culpability has been a belief in Smitrivier for thirteen years, ever since Steve was arrested on Pieter Muller's orders and then disappeared. So now the Truth Commission is James's last chance to find his son's body and have him properly buried. The timing appears to be perfect since the Truth Commission is about to deal with the jailed policeman Dirk Hendricks who applied for amnesty for the torture of Alex Mpondo, now an MP in the South African government. The plan is to use Alex Mpondo's presence at the hearing to threaten Hendricks that unless he reveals Pieter Muller's complicity in the murder of Steve Sizela, he may not get his amnesty. But the search for the truth is going to be far more arduous than Sarah imagined - perhaps even an impossible task.
Mrs Slovo casts a merciless look at contemporary South Africa where heroism and perfidy are no longer distinct, where new truths are as painful as old lies, where torturers, once heroes, are now victims. An excellent novel which shows the absurd relationship between aggressors and victims and the power between the torturers and the tortured.
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Gillian Slovo is novelist whose books never fail to impress and in this one she writes about the aftermath of political changes that probably reached a wider, global audience than any other in the late 20th century. The fact that these occurred in the country of Slovo’s birth and that her parents were so intimately involved in the events leading up to the focus of this book only added to my sense of anticipation. The author certainly does not disappoint.

Sarah Barcantis is a successful New York prosecutor who, out of the blue, receives a call from her close friend and mentor, Ben Hoffman, asking her to drop everything and return to the town of Smitsrivier. Hoffman, a liberal, is dying and needs Sarah’s help to locate the body of Stephen Sizela, son of the town's headmaster. Stephen has been killed by a police officer, Pieter Muller, and this segment of the story runs alongside another, that involves a second ex-policemen and a victim who has sought to put the past behind him.

Alex Mpondo, one of Stephen’s closest friends and now an ANC MP, is to be the key witness in a hearing brought under the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the ex-policemen, Dirk Hendricks, who is seeking an amnesty for crimes that include the torture of Mpondo. However, Mpondo’s way of moving on has been to forget all that had happened to him under the previous regime, ‘He had put Steve out of his mind, buried him as surely as Steve himself had been buried’.

Sarah and Mpondo are at odds, he trying to keep his past memories hidden whilst she is seeking to bring them to the surface.
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5.0 out of 5 stars South Africa: the long road to reconciliation 16 Dec 2013
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has come to Smitrivier,a small dusty South African town, to hear an appeal for amnesty by Dirk Hendricks,an apartheid era policeman now in jail, for the torture, in police custody of Alex Mpondo, now an MP. Lawyers for James Sizela are hoping to pressure Hendricks to inform on Pieter Muller, who as Hendrick's police colleague is believed to have tortured and murdered Sizela's son Steve at the same time.

The novel brings alive the atmosphere of this sleepy isolated place set in semi desert, always dominated until now by the white community, where blacks have lived separately, and now a white man is in effect on trial for his freedom, before an audience comprising mainly black people.An explosive change at the heart of every South African town. We see Hendrick's humble fauning demeanor masking the cruel arrogance which will return when the opportunity arises. The strange universal intimacy between torturer and victim, and in South Africa, exploiter and victim is also discussed.

The novel shows the weaknesses of the Commission, played like a game by both sides, and more generally the difficulty of the healing process in South Africa, particularly in the absence of true reparation,and the continuing racism beneath assertions to the contrary.

The story ends dramatically, but I won't give away the plot.
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