cover image A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa

A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa

Dominique Lapierre. Da Capo Press, $26 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-306-81847-9

Author and philanthropist Lapierre (A Thousand Suns, The City of Joy) offers a harrowing overview of South African history, from Jan Van Riebeeck's first Dutch farming settlement to the presidential election of Nelson Mandela, including the founding of The Orange Free State and the Transvaal, the Boer war, the rise and fall of Apartheid, and more. Beginning with the arrival of Europeons in the late 17th century, Lapierre charts their subsequent Great Trek into the veld, their conviction that God had ordained them to found a new nation; and the martial clashes with Zulus that cemented their belief in white supremacy. Lapierre also recalls the heroes who triumphed over Apartheid: Helen Lieberman, who risked her life to establish health services and education in black ghettos; Christiaan Barnard, the surgeon who dared implant a ""colored heart"" in a white patient; and the residents of integrated neighborhoods like District Six, ""an oasis of tolerance."" Lapierre's biases and some suspect framing (""in a few rare instances, I have taken some liberty with the chronology"") can render him untrustworthy: for instance, does ""white oppression"" really account for the Zulus' massacre of 60 unarmed, outnumbered Boers? Ultimately, this dramatic read, based on ""extensive personal research,"" is absorbing but agenda-driven history. 60 b&w photos.