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Somewhere Over The Rainbow: Travels in South Africa [Paperback]

Gavin Bell
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
RRP: £10.99
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Book Description

1 Feb 2001
Near the southern tip of Africa, there is a mountain that does a conjuring trick with the biggest tablecloth on earth. In a sacred forest near the Limpopo river, there is a bird that flies on wings of thunder, flashing lightning from its eyes and bearing rain in its beak. In between, there is a hauntingly beautiful land and millions of confused people. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu dubbed his native South Africa the 'Rainbow Nation', he conjured a vision of ethnic diversity and harmony in a country with eleven official languages, two national anthems, and a parliament that shuttled between two cities. As a foreign correspondent reporting on the last days of apartheid, Gavin Bell thought it was a brave image and wondered how long it would endure. A few years later, he returned to find out what had happened to Tutu's rainbow. In his travels he found a country at odds with itself, swinging between hope and despair, buoyed by a sense of freedom and haunted by a fear of violent crime. SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW is not only a fine travel book by an award-winning writer, it is a compelling portrait of a country in search of an identity. The leopard stories are good too.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus (1 Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349112614
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349112619
  • Product Dimensions: 19 x 12 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 496,036 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Amazon Review

For his second travel book, reporter Gavin Bell--no stranger to South Africa-- returned to the country to check the pulse of Mandela's "rainbow nation". He is blunt about what he found: "Half of the population had mobile telephones, the other half had no running water, and all of them were afraid of being mugged".

South Africa, "struggling to deal with the legacies not only of apartheid, but of centuries of colonialism", is in trouble, its people not so much divided as simply foreign to each other, history having cruelly widened the gulfs between peoples scattered across this vast, often beautiful, but also often boring, hot and inimical land.

The real threat to South Africa now is globalisation: the destruction of communities by capital. It's easy to sneer at white farmers, as they regret the breaking of the paternalistic bonds that once existed between themselves and their black employees. But Bell makes no such mistakes. He has, after all, just heard much the same lament--from Mandela's country cousin. "'He says he was happy when they were children'", the translator explains. "'They drank sour milk from the cow, and they ate the cow, without buying anything. You can't get sour milk today. Then they wore blankets, now it is Western clothes. Also there were a lot of ceremonies in those days, and there are not so many today.'"

This is not a political study: Bell offers the armchair traveller many sensuous diversions and he is often achingly funny. But he can never quite put out of his mind that this was JRR Tolkein's birthplace; and there is something of Mordor about the landscapes he describes. --Simon Ings --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Wry and deft ... travel writing of a high order, given steel by [Bell's] keen understanding of the country's contradictions (DAILY TELEGRAPH)

A fine, gentle and loving travel book about South Africa which captures the magic of the land and the warmth of its peoples (SCOTSMAN)

Wherever Bell goes, he brings a gimlet eye to the human and unusual (YORKSHIRE POST)

One of life's great wanderers, at home when he is away ... a lucid, deeply informative and highly entertaining piece of travel prose (GLASGOW HERALD)

A warm, sane and illuminating book (Ned Sherrin)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
42 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The real South Africa traveled and discovered 20 Jan 2002
By A Customer
I picked this book up as Christmas present for a friend who likes travel writing and the history of nations. Having read the first couple of pages I could not put the book down. Here's why:
The author (Gavin Bell)approaches an extremely diffcult topic (change in South Africa after the fall of the Apartheid government)through the eyes of a traveler. The author travels to some of the most remote and dangerous places in South Africa and interacts quite beautifully (and without judgement) with the local people. It is through this interaction that he gains insight into how things have ( or have not changed since the ANC government has come to power).
The descriptions of landscapes (rural and urban) travelled from barren deserts, tropical forests , wild animal infested savanna's, raging seas, magestic mountains, victorian dorps (villages), crime ridden cities and displaced townships are deftly intervoven with local stories and attitudes which provides an accurate and digestable history of the country.
As a South African who has been living in the UK for 3 years I can honestly say he has hit the nail on the head. Politically, he has cpatured some remarkable insights. Geographically, he has explored extensively. He has combined the two brillianlty. This is definatley a book for all, not only non-South Africans as I was treated to new discoveries and insights.
If you want to get an acurate feel for the diverse magic of South Africa, read this book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Kavey
I added this book to my wish list recently as an idle reminder to myself to ask for it for Christmas. An enterprising friend found my wishlist and sent me this book as a surprise for my birthday.
I found the book compelling reading. Full of insightful comments and amusing or thought-provoking anecdotes it taught me much about South African people, politics and history without being in the slightest bit dull or dry.
By describing his encounters with ordinary citizens of South Africa Gavin Bell brings the country and it's people to life and provided me with understanding that I would have found difficult to obtain from a straight history or current affairs book.
His writing is beautiful and sympathetic and some of the best I've read in the genre for a long time.
I very highly recommend it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Engaging Read 17 April 2004
A good introduction to a complicated land. The book is enaging and easy to read, but there is too much over-simplification of the complexities of the country. The humour is also too affected. For a better understanding of South Africa, read Frank Welsh's A History of South Africa; Max Du Preez's Pale Native, or Hermann Giliomee's The Afrikaners.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhere Over the Rainbow 3 April 2009
If you are planning a trip around the lesser known parts of South Africa this will serve as an excellent guide book, as well as being a very entertaining read. I had great difficulty keeping hold of my copy whilst in SA as the locals I showed it to all wanted to get hold of it! My only reservation is that it was written in 2000 and some of the detail may now be out of date.
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