The World That Was Ours-Hilda Bernstein
nationality: UK/South Africa
Memoir, Non fiction
'This has survived as a South African classic not just because it's beautifully written,' wrote Anthony Sampson in the Spectator, 'but because it conveys the combination of ordinariness and danger which is implicit in any totalitarian state.' The World that was Ours is about the events leading up to the 1964 Rivonia Trial when Hilda Bernstein's husband was acquitted but Mandela and the 'men of Rivonia' received life sentences. 'This passionately political memoir,' observed The Times, 'is vibrant with the dilemmas of everyday family life, quick-witted dialogue, fast-paced adventure and novelistic detail.' Yet the political background is not dwelt on: it is simply taken for granted that civilised South Africans fought apartheid and the uncivilised propped it up. The main strength of the book is as an outstanding personal memoir;
This is a classic and for good reason. I grew up in a post-apartheid world and it always seemed so long ago (even though it really wasn't) and far away from suburban America where we barely learned about the history of the USA post 1830s not to say of anywhere else. This is a great book to really just immediately engage with the Rivonia Trial and the circumstances surrounding it.
Bernstein offers a tremendous insider view of the beginning of governmental strictures that heralded the beginning of full apartheid by clearly detailing the numerous ways intimidation can silence an entire population. It is an important book as you become familiar with the accused (both white and black) before and during the Rivonia trial which really seemed when the international community fully understood the governmental misrule that was going on and functions as the true signal before the true oppression that would grip the country for decades.
If you only have the vague outlines of apartheid and what a government might do to let it form, this is a supremely important book. It goes into detail with a human face to bring the events alive. I can imagine how this book hit hard when it was first published and to be honest, its impact has not really lessened even in a post-apartheid world. Parts may have dragged a bit but there is such a reward for finishing.