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Under Our Skin: A White Family's Journey through South Africa's Darkest Years

Under Our Skin: A White Family's Journey through South Africa's Darkest Years [Kindle Edition]

Donald McRae
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Engrossing... a gripping read... elegantly told... a rich book... a moving tribute to heroism... McRae has written about the times he lived so simply and so visually that we, too, can share in his memories - The Times

In this exemplary memoir, McRae combines a harrowing account of the fate of Neil Aggett (the only white anti-apartheid activist to be tortured to death by the security services) with a touchingly apologetic tribute to his father s quiet heroism - The Sunday Times

McRae does a beautiful job of seeing South Africa through a child's eyes... harrowing... but its undoubted power is always combined with a more reflective intelligence - Readers Digest

Donald McRae's exquisitely framed memoir, Under Our Skin, recalls a not-so-distant era when people were dying, and being tortured, and being conscripted to fight in defense of a twisted ideology . . . This is also a father-and-son story. In his unfailingly crisp and understated prose, McRae recalls with great tenderness how his dad nursed him when he cut his face open on a metal bedstead - Observer

McRae's sober, well-crafted memoir captures the moral nuances as well as the horrors of the apartheid era . . . Under Our Skin is also a coming-of-age memoir of a more conventional stamp, full of the sounds and smells of an African childhood. McRae recaptures the gaucheness of his teenage years with humour and tenderness . . . deft and fascinating --Sunday Telegraph

A moving memoir of a father and son s conflict in a white South African family during apartheid --Sunday Times

'McRae's sober, well-crafted memoir captures the moral nuances as well as the horrors of the apartheid era . . . Under Our Skin is also a coming-of-age memoir of a more conventional stamp, full of the sounds and smells of an African childhood. McRae recaptures the gaucheness of his teenage years with humour and tenderness . . . deft and fascinating' --Sunday Telegraph

Product Description

Don McRae grew up in a South Africa where his father would call the black men he met 'boy' and where his mother insisted that their black servants used tin mugs, plates and cutlery as they ate the family's left-over food in the backyard of their grand suburban property. The McRaes, like so many white people, seemed oblivious to the violent injustices of apartheid. As the author grew up, the political differences between father and son widened and when Don refused to join up for National Service, risking imprisonment or exile overseas, the two were torn apart.
It wasn't until years later that the author discovered that the father with whom he had fought so bitterly had later in his life transformed himself into a political hero. Risking everything one dark and rainy night Ian McRae travelled secretly into the black township of Soweto to meet members of Nelson Mandela's then banned African National Congress to discuss ways to bring power to black South Africa. He had no political ambitions; he was just a man trying to replace the worst in himself with something better.
Under Our Skin is a memoir of these tumultuous years in South Africa's history, as told through the author's family story. It offers an intimate and penetrating perspective on life under apartheid, and tells a story of courage and fear, hope and desolation and love and pain, especially between a father and his son.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 936 KB
  • Print Length: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (29 Mar 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #62,288 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
4.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Transported back in time... 4 May 2013
By Dee
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book written by accomplished author, sports journalist and fellow student at high school in South Africa, took me through a personal journey, one that transported me back to the apartheid years spent growing up in Germiston, it's prejudices, it's complications, our school life and the undercurrents that ran through society. One man's story that wraps up many names and memories of the past for many of us that spent our formative years in this place. A story that reveals the bravery of of a young man and his family that stood up and spoke out during this time. Thank you Donald!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Sometimes it is hard to reconcile that something bad was happening in your lifetime that you had little awareness of. I am 26, and I still find it hard to imagine that when I was growing up as a young child, there was a country that openly discriminated so flagrantly against its own citizens under our very eyes.

Literature on the apartheid era in South Africa is relatively wide spread. We have the Bang Bang Club or my Traitor's Heart, but here we have a beautifully written personal response to growing up in apartheid South Africa.

Donald McRae is primarily respected and known as a sports writer for the Guardian and also for several award winning books. Here he lays bare the tensions that existed in his own life as a white middle class South African who grew to hate the apartheid era risking his own life by teaching in the townships of Soweto at the heart of the crisis.

Today McRae lives in London, but he looks back on those turbulent years clearly and reopens wounds that perhaps would have closed. He had bitter rows with his family as he faced the dilemma of staying in the country that he couldn't understand or move to an alien cold country in England potentially never seeing the people he loved the most ever again.

Tension exists in this book, does he let his politics rule his heart of his head? What is more important his principles or his family?

While clashing with his family, in the end McRae finds out his father fought for the equality harder than almost anyone in South Africa.

An emotional journey from a writer who brings to light a time in a country that wasn't so long ago, but is ultimately incomprehensible now.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating reading 30 April 2012
When apartheid was at its height I struggled to understand how white South Africans could tolerate the evils of their government. Those few that I had contact with seemed to disclaim any responsibility, blaming everything on Afrikanerdom. This fascinating story shows how discrimination and race consciousness was built into every part of society and day-to-day living, and impossible to escape from without major sacrifice. Donald McRae knew from an early age that he would have to emigrate to avoid national service, leaving his family behind.

There are three main strands to the book - (1) McRae's own story, (2) the torture of Dr Neil Aggett and his friends, leading to his suicide, and (3) the achievements of McRae's father in bringing electricity to black areas (even though, in the eyes of many whites, they didn't really want it!!) All three strands are fascinating and could merit telling in their own right. Editing the book must have been a major challenge and could have been done differently, but the nature of the South African experience shines out throughout.

I would have liked to read more of McRae's life after he left his homeland, and something about how the torturers fared in the new South Africa - but a line on what is included and excluded has to be drawn somewhere. Sometimes the fictional prose style grates a little, describing events and attitudes that McRae himseelf did not directly witness - but that is a minor concern in a work which is well worth reading for anybody wanting to understand better a culture which has thankfully gone.

I couldn't help making comparisons between McRea's South Africa and present day Israel. I have no way of knowing how similar the mindset and activities of the South African and Isreali states actually are, but perhaps another book like this one will be written in 40 years time which will tell us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly honest and totally gripping 2 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An amazingly honest book. Totally gripping and could hardly bare to put it down. I remember watching the events in this book on tv as a child and it gave me a whole new perspective on the history on South Africa.
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By Alice B
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Became a bit bored with this.

I expected more insight into life under apartheid. I lived in SA during this time and I could have added far more daily insight. eg having entrances to stores marked 'blankes' and 'nie blankes' (forgive spelling if not correct). Then, queuing up and being addressed as 'Madam' and the person behind me asked 'What do you want?' Just one of many examples of the harshness of apartheid.

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The death of Mandela in December 2013 increases the glowing myth that he was a saint and he alone led South Africa out of the international wilderness and only his successors, Mbeki and Zuma, tarnished the image of the country and of the ANC. But did the revolution arise as simply as this because of one man?

This book, looks at the South Africa under White apartheid rule from John Vorster to Piet Botha and F.W. De Klerk, and shows the individual work of a single white family, the McRaes of Johannesburg in bringing about important permanent change to the life of all South Africans.

Donald McRae had a very privileged life first in Witbank, in south-west Transvaal, and later in Germiston, 10 miles from Jo'burg, living in a good home with African domestics and gardeners, and attending a good university. His father, Ian, had an important position in the state electricity company, Eskom. The family could claim to want nothing the regime offered.

Donald and Ian each travelled long dangerous parallel roads in their separate lives for long not realising their destinations were similar. Don's immediate adolescent rebellion was centred on his refusal to dutifully serve his term in the forces, and his Scottish parents unwillingness to listen. Over time this dissent hardened and intertwined itself with his growing hostility against the oppressive minority, the Arifkaans speaking Boers, in favour of the Black majority inside the country, around the squalid townships, and indirectly the exiled "communist" and Black "terrorist" led ANC abroad. His life was spurred on by the deaths of local martyred heroes, the Black Steve Biko and the White, Dr Neil Aggett. Before his own self imposed exile he made a brave leap by teaching in a Black school in Soweto.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Immaculate
I expected this book to be a bit damaged but it's in excellent condition and looking forward to reading it.
Published 6 months ago by B
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
i bought this for a friend who had been in S.A. at the time described; his feedback was very positive - he liked it very much.
Published 9 months ago by Mike3
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly enjoyable, yet emotional journey through this beautifully...
As a fellow born and braised South African, that currently lives in Scotland this book evoked so many emotions and shared perceptions of that time in SA that i found this very... Read more
Published 9 months ago by grobbiesm
5.0 out of 5 stars True Insight
I lived in South Africa during the troubles in 1976 and was a little shocked to discover what really went on
Published 14 months ago by ROBBIE ROBSTER
5.0 out of 5 stars Good choice if you are planning to visit South Africa
I bought this to read while visiting family in South Africa and am glad I did, as this told me a lot about the run up to the fall of apartheid, as seen by a liberal who was young... Read more
Published 15 months ago by D
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read
A very easy book to read, and portrays a vivid description of a young man growing up in South Africa in the mid 1970/80's. One does not have had to lived in the country to enjoy.
Published 19 months ago by F B PALMER
4.0 out of 5 stars Fair...
Captured the times - too much emphasis on political prisoners ( Agett etc.) there are other books about them - poor ending - just fizzled out. Read more
Published 20 months ago by The Enforcer
5.0 out of 5 stars Under your skin
I went to the same school as Don and lived in the same area and he played tennis regularly with my husband so all the memories come flooding back - Cachet Road shops with Bossie... Read more
Published on 21 May 2012 by Mrs. Pm Godley
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