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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine book
Some of the finest and most honest writing about an intriguing, beautiful and complex country. Malan writes like a dream and breaks through all the pedestrian stereotypes.
Published 2 months ago by fred

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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A rip off
Most of the articles in this book have already appeared in a previous book by this author. It is therefore a rip off for anyone who has already read his work.
Published 16 months ago by D R BECK


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5.0 out of 5 stars Fine book, 21 May 2014
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Some of the finest and most honest writing about an intriguing, beautiful and complex country. Malan writes like a dream and breaks through all the pedestrian stereotypes.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Un Prophète qui se trompe toujours, 12 Feb 2014
By 
Roderick Blyth (Oxfordshire, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
If most of us were asked to name a leading South Africa journalist, the odds are that few of us would be able to do so, but that those few would almost certainly light on the name of Rian Malan. There is some irony in this, because whilst Malan might once have been thought of as anything but representative of the white establishment from which he comes, he can hardly be said to be any more generally representative of the liberal consensus which helped to undermine it. An 8th generation Afrikaaner, Malan is the great nephew of the D.F.Malan under whose presidency (1948-1954) the Republic of South Africa created what proved to be its last laager (assuming, of course, that you exclude those modern South African shopping precincts which, under a new form of apartheid more acceptable to the West, admit the rich and to exclude the poor). But even as the wagons led by an elder generation were forming an inward-looking circle against an increasingly hostile world, the eyes of the young Rian and many of South Africa's other most privileged children were fixed on the mesmerising orthodoxies of white, anglo-saxon 'rebel' culture: so Rian left behind the mild social satire of 'Wait a Minim' and 'Ach! Please Daddy!' and became a trendy outsider: a rock-band revolutionary; a spray-paint propagandist; a bedsit buddhist; a barfly marxist, and finally, a righteous draft-dodger from the country which his forebears had helped to create.

In 1990, Malan returned to South Africa and published a book called 'My Traitor's Heart'. This came as a surprise: it was well-written, intellectually sophisticated, and emotionally compelling. Here was a man who seemed to combine a passion for truth and justice with a shrewd estimate of the real effort required to sustain them in a world where history, fashion, and self-interest conspired heavily to thrust them under. Not for Malan the easy repudiation of a dark and sombre past, the refusal to contemplate a self-deluding present, or the uncritical vision of a future seen through rainbow-coloured spectacles. Here we had a sharp analysis of the nation's predicament presented by a passionate and romantic contrarian. Or so, at least, it seemed to intellectual opinion in West: in South Africa, the position was more complicated, and the fact that Malan appeared to have 'betrayed' his own roots did not necessarily endear him to those who were busy digging them up: 'Those I'd left behind remained obsessed with apartheid. I became obsessed with what replaced it. They thought apartheid was the source of all South Africa's pain. I thought we were doomed unless we figured out what had gone wrong elsewhere in Africa' (p.xi).

Since the publication of 'My Traitor's Heart', though, Malan hasn't published anything of substance: in the Foreword to this book of occasional journalism, Mlan says that he feels that the only worthwhile writing he's done 'over the past two decades appeared in letters to friends in whose company' he 'could ignore the crushing taboos that govern discussions of race among civilised people' 'By the time Nelson Mandela came out of prison in 1990' writes Malan. 'intellectual opinions 'laid down on the far side of the planet by high priests of white civilisation' and 'propagated by white professors at the University of Witwatersrand rejoiced in the downfall of white supremacy. Practitioners of this doctrine saw themselves as part of, sometimes even heroes of, the uprising of the natives. They thought the wrath of the masses would fall on the bad whites responsible for apartheid, while 'good' whites merged into a smiley-faced culture of soft socialism and interracial harmony. I said bulls*** gentlemen. Africa calls for another outcome entirely. The wind of change will eventually sweep everything away - your job, your illusions, your university as presently constituted, the wires that bring light at the flick of a switch, the pipes that discreetly remove your turds, the freeways on which you drive, the high-tech chemical farms that put food on your tables, the investments that sustain your comfortable old age, and the clean, efficient hospitals in which you plan to expire. All these things are the creations of the white empire, and when it fades they will to'. But, writes Malan, while 'every day since has brought thunderous confirmation of the rectitude of' his 'prognostications. Every day has also brought irrefutable proof of the fact' that he is and was mistaken (p.xii). The reason this book is worth reading is because it's author continually takes an undeceived stand, but confesses, continually, that he has, indeed, been no less deceived than anyone else: these are not contradictions commonly to be found in those who work in socio-political and cultural journalism.

As the quoted passages show, Malan writes fluent, friendly and conversational prose; he has a keen eye, an attentive ear, and a quick mind; he is informative, analytic and appropriately acid. He tries, persistently, to tell the truth, and says that he has provoked reactions which include the charge that he is a racist - which he dismisses as an accusation 'so commonplace it's barely worth mentioning; any South African journalist who hasn't been called a racist or a self-hating house Negro is a fawning ingrate whose lips are chapped from sucking the unmentionable appendages of those in power. Among the more interesting accusations, he says, were those of 'incest, homosexual tendencies, heterosexual debauchery, incompetence, deceit, murder, sissiness, 'carbuncular' practices, a secret alliance with the diabolical President Mbeki, spying for the Zulu nationalists. drinking too much, taking drugs, and smelling bad' - several of which are very evidently true.

The title piece, (though headed 'In the Jungle)' can be taken as a fairly representative example of the general approach. Here Malan explores the circumstances in which the most famous Africa song ever created came to be conceived, exploited and done over (and over) again. Everybody knows the name of the song, can hum the melody, and sing the refrain - but hardly anyone knows the name of the man who 'wrote' it (Soloman Linda - who, in point of fact, probably didn't actually 'write' any music at all). Since it was first cut in 1939, ''Wimoweh''/"The Lion Sleeps" has made at least $15 million dollars; Linda, who died of renal failure in October 1962, probably didn't see much more than $1,000 of it, and in the 1990s, his remaining descendants, were receiving 'around $295 a quarter' - money which 'enabled his widow to feed her children and educate the two youngest... After his widow's 'death... small sums of money continued to materialise - never much, but enough to build a tin shack in their backyard, and enough even to start a little shop at the front gate. In American terms, their poverty remained appalling, but in their own estimation this was a happy ending - until I showed up and told them what might have been' (p.79).

But its typical of Maln to avoid the easy conclusion: Linda may have been a black man in south Africa, but his American contemporaries did little better: 'all musicians were minnows in the pop-music food chain, but blacks were most vulnerable, and Soloman Linda, an illiterate migrant from a wild and backward place, was totally defenceless against sophisticated predators'. He wasn't even cheated - he sold his rights for what seemed to him a good price, and what happened subsequently owed to its exploitation in ways he could never haves dreamed, imagined, or administered. So when he had followed all the leads, and unravelled the whole story, Malan sat down and wrote to George Weiss (who 're-wrote' the song) and to Larry Richmond (whose father's company acquired the copyright), 'distancing' himself 'from pious moralists who might see them as sharks and even suggesting a line of reasoning they might take. "The only thing worse than exploitation" 'he 'mused 'is not being exploited at all'. And then I enumerated all the good things old Solomon gained from making up the most famous melody that ever emerged from Africa: ten shillings, a big reputation, adulation and lionisation, several cool suits, a wind-up gramophone, a check from Pete Seeger, and a trickle of royalties that had spared his daughters from absolute penury. "All told", I concluded, "there is a case to be made against the idea that Solomon Linda was a victim of injustice". Then I sat back and waited for someone to make it.'.

If 'In the Jungle' is also the most obvious selling point for this collection, other outstanding essays deal with 'the workings' of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1996-1998); the exposure of institutionalised criminality of the South African police force under Commissioner Selebi (formerly President of Interpol); and an analysis of the realities underlying the extravagant claims made about AIDS in the 1980s/1990s - and who benefitted from it all and at whose expense. Elsewhere, and in other contexts, Malan throws interesting and unexpected lights on the F.W.de Klerk (whose courage, realism and decency he rightly praises), Nelson Mandela (a shrewd manipulator of events and of his own image), and Thabo Mbeki (an astute opportunist whose 'betrayal' of his earlier communism 'led to a massively increased tax harvest, which, in turn, financed the creation of the welfare star, with 11 million poor now receiving subsistence grants of one kind or another'): it hardly needs to be said that very little of what Malan writes is going to find an echo in the hearts and minds of the orthodox, but I doubt whether Malan would want it any other way. With his beaten up rock star looks; his shoulder length, thinning grey hair; his leather jacket and his slouch hat; Malan seems at ease in his ingrained pose of teen-age rebel with impeccable social credentials who refuses to compromise - or to grow up. Sex'n drugs n'rock'n'roll have washed around, temporarily submerged, but never really overwhelmed this self-romanticising one man band and for all his sub-romantic posturing, Malan remains what he has always been - a white, dutch Afrikaaner running up and down stream against the line that hooks him to his folk's history.

This collection begins with an essay about the last trek of white Africans into a generations old fantasy of a land of milk and honey where what might seem to have proved a futile attempt to escape into the heart of Africa ends in a strange situation which is both the betrayal of tradition and the assertion of the deeper yearnings that inspired it. It ends with the story of wild colonial boys brought up as white Zulus and the improbable expression of an unlikely hope that honey-coloured mestizos might yet play an integrated part in the future of this huge, dynamic and hopelessly corrupt sub-continent. Two thousand years ago Pliny the Elder famously observed that 'there was always something new from Africa' - a saying that he refers to as old even when he said it, and 'common among the Greeks' - than whom we have no earlier Western observers: time and time again, Malan's essays demonstrate that, at least in this respect, nothing in the relationship between Europe and Africa has really changed.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Malan never lets you down, 22 Dec 2013
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'My Traitor's Heart' and this are two of the most honest books about being white in South Africa that you can read
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5.0 out of 5 stars A number of fascinating articles building a picture of new South Africa, 17 Aug 2013
By 
R. A. Davison (UK) - See all my reviews
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My Traitor's Heart, by Rian Malan is the single best autobiography I've ever read. It's stunning. I had never seen any further work by Rian Malan for sale until I spotted The Lion Sleeps Tonight in Waterstones about a month ago. I couldn't afford to buy it at that moment, and as luck would have it, saw it in my library two days ago.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight is a collection of essays and articles that Malan has written for various publications including The Spectator since My Traitor's Heart came out 23 years ago.

These articles cover a range of topics from the titular story which is a reference to the famous song by The Tokens but was actually written by a South African Zulu who received no recompense, to articles about Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, the Miss World Competition, the film Invictus, and Winnie Mandela.

By far the most fascinating of these are two articles written about the problem of AIDS in Africa. Malan, not a fan of Thabo Mbeki, is offered a chance to mock his AIDS denying stance by the magazine Rolling Stone, and jumps on it, but as he engages in his research he discovers that the globally accepted AIDS statistics and the actual picture do not match up.

Malan has always been an interesting character, owing to his descendancy from one of the main architects of Apartheid - Daniel Malan. At times he is a pessimist, prophesising a forthcoming ethnic cleansing in South Africa and at times he seems overtly racist referring affirmatively in one instance to Ian Smith's remarks about the future of Rhodesia. Malan's openly acknowledged and honest struggle against the racist indoctrination of his past is one of the things which makes his voice such a unique one to hear.

In spite of these issues, his perspectives from the "other side of the colour divide" are consistently fascinating as is the picture he builds of the modern post-Apartheid, struggling and confused, yet weathering it out nation.

I have always enjoyed anything about Africa and this collection is well worth a read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars loved this unusual book, 11 July 2013
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I loved this book and have lent it to friends who have enjoyed it equally. The collected articles published by various journals etc cover many topics to do with South Africa - suffice it to say it is rare to find anything written on these topics with such even handedness and lack of political correctness. Apparently some of these articles have appeared in other collections, check whether you have read any of them if this matters to you. Particularly loved the one about the origins of the song 'The Lion Sleeps tonight' .
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A rip off, 8 Mar 2013
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Most of the articles in this book have already appeared in a previous book by this author. It is therefore a rip off for anyone who has already read his work.
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The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Rian Malan (Hardcover - 29 Nov 2012)
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