Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa is Antjie Krog's amazingly powerful work reflecting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which she covered as a radio journalist. Interspersing personal narratives, poetry, and the testimony of victims and perpetrators, Krog lays out the agonizing complexities of amnesty and forgiveness. Reading it, one feels literally torn between the ubuntu of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the desire for revenge or punitive justice voiced by so many spouses, parents, rape survivors, or everyday victims of apartheid. Krog's liberal political commitments are obvious in the book, but she doesn't make it easy: her extended family stands in for Afrikaner alienation, and part of her clearly sympathizes with the more radical anti-apartheid currents.

Probably the most gripping section of the book was the testimony of Dirk Coetzee, a former operative of the secretive Vlakplaas, which carried out assassinations and torture in the latter days of apartheid. Coetzee defected to the African National Congress, confessed to the murder of activist attorney Griffiths Mxenge, and became an opponent of National Party rule. Coetzee catalogs the strategies of torture and body disposal, leaving one to wonder how a torture victim can come to reconcile with a torturer.

The book ends on a frustrated note, as virtually every political party began to treat the TRC like a leper. Krog, as with many others, remains frustrated at the horseshit submissions of the South African Defense Force and former president F.W. De Klerk ("I didn't know anything, I was just president"), not to mention the non-submission of the senile Pieter Willem Botha. This is not to say the book ends entirely pessimistically, but this is a Great Book in that it cuts open a number of social problems without offering a quick fix. An excellent read, if you are interested in the challenges of building a viable democratic society out of a brutal and coercive one.

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