Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir

Mark Gevisser. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-374-1-76761
Playing a game called Dispatcher as a child in apartheid-era Johannesburg, journalist and writer Gevisser (A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream) became fascinated by maps and what they both revealed and disguised. Poring over Holmden's Register of Johannesburg, the city's official street guide, it eventually dawned on him that entire black townships were simply blocked out, as if they didn't exist; and indeed, until 1976 and the first uprising in Soweto, most white South Africans denied their existence. In this finely calibrated memoir of his dawning political consciousness, Gevisser (born in 1964) tracks his hometown's evolution from a mining camp to the "Manhattan of Africa." A magnet for economic refugees, the bulk of Johannesburg's workforce—mainly blacks and Indians—were hidden from citywide thoroughfares and largely excluded from photographs (such as the servants Gevisser's family employed to care for the children and house.) Gevisser cleverly applies the trope of "boundaries" to the segregation and eventual strangulation of Jewish enclaves in the author's ancestral Lithuania, as well as the closeted and shunted homosexual underworld to which he was drawn. "Stifled by the whiteness, the privilege of [his] childhood," the author found release and self-acceptance living in New York for seven years, a time coinciding with the collapse of apartheid. His dream of an "open city" for all people was challenged by a recent break-in at his friends' home and attack at gunpoint, underscoring the elusiveness of his city, and casting over this elegant memoir shadows of vigilance and insecurity. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 04/15/2014
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4299-4774-9
Ebook - 334 pages - 978-1-86842-589-1
Paperback - 352 pages - 978-0-374-53502-5
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