cover image Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa

Rivonia's Children: Three Families and the Cost of Conscience in White South Africa

Glenn Frankel. Farrar Straus Giroux, $25 (336pp) ISBN 978-0-374-25099-7

A former South Africa bureau chief of the Washington Post, Frankel writes with depth and style about a group of mostly Jewish, mostly Communist, activists who, in the early 1960s, allied themselves with black activists seeking an end to apartheid. Rivonia was the farm outside Johannesburg where these radicals and their comrades were captured in a 1963 raid. The most compelling figures are Rusty and Hilda Bernstein; Rusty penned the African National Congress's inspirational Freedom Charter. Others in the book include Ruth First, journalist and wife of ANC and Communist Party leader Joe Slovo (the film A World Apart was based on her life), and Bram Fischer, a lawyer and Afrikaner rebel whose life inspired Nadine Gordimer's Burger's Daughter. Frankel's kaleidoscopic style sometimes slows things down, and he could have done more to explore the group's reflections on the new South Africa they helped build. But Frankel constructs a dramatic narrative, combining interviews with his subjects (also some police and a Jewish prosecutor) with existing memoirs, histories and other accounts. The story is propelled by his own cogent assessments, by his deep respect for these activists and by his ruminations on the extraordinarily charged moral choices these people made and what their decisions cost them (in any number of ways, including family relationships, imprisonment and exile). Hilda Bernstein's observation rings powerfully: ""The meaning of life is not a fact to be discovered, but a choice you make about the way you live."" (Aug.)