November 08, 2011

Review: Dust on his Soul - Jason Blacker

Cruel and painful. I wasn't sure I would like this book. I love history, but I didn't know I liked South African history. More than that, I wasn't sure I cared.

As a woman and a feminist, I relate to all sorts of struggle, but I have always had a problem with most people who claim they've been a victim of some sort of prejudice, they don't always have. It happens that a person's own problems are so deep within them that they think everything is caused by that, but that's not how it always goes, sometimes you just aren't fit fot it. That is not the case here, however.

The book is amazing: cruel, painful and shocking, but very real. While it isn't a true story, it is inspired by and based on Steve Biko's life, a South African black man, a hero, who fought the Apartheid.

The story starts with Stephen (Bankulu) in jail, remembering parts of his story that were vital to his getting there. Of course we don't hear only from him, but from his parents and friends as well, since we get to know all sides of the story and some extra information on why things happened. We follow most of the things that influence his life, from his childhood, happy and sheltered, as much as it was possible, to his bitter teen years and his sad but strong adult years.

After he loses his father (hopefully that's not too much spoilery), Stephen starts to think there isn't a reason to fight the regime, maybe he should just dodge it and try to live a life, a good life, as much as he could, he's just so angry... And that made me think, that's what we all do, usually. We just ignore the system, we just try to pass by and live without getting caught by the ugly ends of the regime. But they always get us, when they're too ugly.

Any black person living in South Africa during the Apartheid was destined to an awful life, one way or the other, never going too high, being beaten down and tossed aside by force. So the only other choice was to fight.

Stephen takes a long road, takes a few wrong turns, goes around, and finally finds that out. And decides to fight. That's what ends up taking him to jail.

He narrates his time in jail, how they are decently fed and get time out in the Sun, for a while, and suddenly the prison starts getting crowded and they're not getting more food, so they start to starve and not get enough time out, so they get weak and sick.

(The real Stephen Biko to your left) Eventually, Stephen is tortured. We were all waiting for it, but when it comes, no one is ready for what you read. It's raw, it's cruel and it's way too graphic. No tv crime show prepared you for what's to come. They beat him up but keep him awake and aware, he narrates what he's feeling and which parts of the body he's not feeling anymore. He's hung and they're trying to beat information out of him (not really effective, people, really!), but they're more making him faint than talk. He's got his convictions and he's not going to talk - specially if they're doing exactly what made him fight in the first place.

I started to do some research on the Apartheid and the South African old regime and all, and I was amazed to find out how recent it was and how badly we were taught. In Brazil, we learn Brazilian history and "world" history. But we don't get any non-European History. Not even North American. It's just briefly mentioned, not in-depth, so I didn't know, for example, that Mandela was only elected in '94. It sounded so old history to me, he looks (no offense) so old that I'd guess he was a president, oh say, 40 years ago.

I love history, so I find myself offended that I didn't know that. I think it's very rude of me not to know. And I was just thinking... What else don't I know? I know there is much I don't, but I'm trying to find the information. And what about all those people who were educated in the same system as me but will never go and find the information? They'll never read about it or absorb that kind of information and they'll never know how bad it was, how much they suffered and the kind of heroes they were.

And that makes me think about all that's wrong with the educational system here. And that's a lot. But that's story for another day, of course.

It is better to die for an idea that will live, than to live for an idea that will die. (Stephen Biko)

You can buy Dust on His Soul here  Or the Kindle version here.