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Under Our Skin: A White Family's Journey Through South Africa's Darkest Years Paperback – 28 Feb 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (28 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849831378
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849831376
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 312,674 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donald McRae is the award-winning author of eight books. He is one of only two authors to have won the prestigious William Hill award twice, for Dark Trade and In Black & White. As a journalist he has twice won Sports Interviewer of the Year - as well as winning Sports Feature Writer of the Year. His next book will be published by Simon & Schuster in 2015. He lives in Hertfordshire.

Product Description

Review

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

A touchingly apologetic tribute to his father s quiet heroism ... An arresting marriage of reportage and heartfelt confession - 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

About the Author

Donald McRae is the award-winning author of seven books. He is one of only two authors to have won the prestigious William Hill award twice, for Dark Trade and In Black & White. As a journalist he has twice won Sports Interviewer of the Year - as well as winning Sports Feature Writer of the Year. His latest book, The Old Devil, is also published by Simon & Schuster.

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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By JWA Drennan on 27 Sept. 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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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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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Derbyshire reader on 30 April 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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