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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Book review: Memoirs of a Born Free by Malaika wa Azania

wa Azania's book is tricky to review, it's part family history, part political musings and part story of the South Africa that some people don't see. It is an apt example of the way in which, in South Africa, the political and personal are interwoven in both expected and unexpected ways. She frames this book as a letter to the ANC, and discusses the great hope and belief it had from her family. A hope and belief that it has lost not only from them, but from her.

It's when she talks about her family's story that this book really shines. She's part of a greater whole, a witness to incomplete stories that she shares with an obvious love for her family. But, it's when she starts detailing her success and struggles that I started to switch off. The difficulty lies in that she wrote this when she was 22. And it is at 22 that we are in the process of shedding the person we were in our teens. So, as such everything she shares is tinged with that arrogance that you only ever have when you're a teenager wrapped in your own bubble with little thought to everyone else’s story.

Yes, this is Malaika's memoir, it is her story and naturally it will be centred on her. But, by framing this as a letter to the ANC she has divided her story. As I said earlier the personal and political are intertwined, but her exploration of the political strips away those aspects of the personal that make for compelling reading. When those aspects are present, you're an utterly engaged reader.

There are a few moments when I'm left wanting to know more. And those are often the moments spent on her family. I want to know more about her mother's moments during the movement, how her grandmother dealt with the times her mother was detained, what the big falling out was about that had her mother move them away. Those are things that make a memoir to me, that recognition of who the people are who shaped you, and what their stories are.

Thus, I'm left feeling that this could be part one of a greater whole to come. Perhaps this is a memoir that would have been better off being left to be written when wa Azania is older. Something you can see in her epilogue when she writes about the weight of voting, and how:
“When you vote for a party, you vote for the future of your country. You give powers to a few individuals to decide on the fate of millions, some of whom are too young or too powerless t o speak for themselves. When you vote for a party, you give them the responsibility of guarding the gains of our liberation struggle.”


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