cover image South from the Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa

South from the Limpopo: Travels Through South Africa

Dervla Murphy. Overlook Press, $26.95 (432pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-948-3

In her latest travelogue, Murphy (Muddling Through in Madagascar) documents her 6000-mile trek through South Africa's nine provinces between 1993 and 1995. The post-apartheid South Africa she sees is characterized by violence, racial tension and economic uncertainty--circumstances, indicates Murphy, not unlike those occurring in her own Northern Ireland. Forsaking such comforts as automobiles and hotels, the 60-something Murphy opts instead to travel by bicycle, stopping off at municipal watering holes, campgrounds and, when the invitations arise, private homes. Such intrepid wanderlust gives her the opportunity to speak with a cross-section of South Africans, from unemployed black miners to wealthy white Afrikaners. However, Murphy speaks only English among South Africa's 11 official languages. This fact obviously limits whom she speaks to and, similarly, what people are able to communicate to her. She makes up for this shortcoming by listening closely to what she can understand and by making the most of her visual observations. Early in the book, she shows self-awareness by acknowledging the wisdom of a black man who tells her, "" should know as a white you're intruding here.... It's not a zoo for tourists to see how `natives' live."" Fortunately, Murphy's curiosity allows her to insightfully, if occasionally intemperately, relate her many experiences, from witnessing the frenzied crowds celebrating Nelson Mandela's 1994 presidential inauguration to observing a summer's day mob attack on a young girl to eating Christmas Day dinner at a prison. Rights: John Murray Publishers. (July)