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Always Another Country, by Sisonke Msimang.

July 13, 2018

Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home
Always Another Country: A Memoir of Exile and Home, by Sisonke Msimang. 2017.  World Editions

Forthcoming in the U.S. in 2018.

5 stars–FAVORITE

An insightful, well-crafted narrative by the daughter of South African Freedom fighters considers the idealism of her childhood spent in exile and the frustration of her return as an adult to her homeland during its post-Mandala years

The mere trajectory of Sisonke Msimang’s life is enough reason to read her book, but there is much more.  She is also a bright, sensitive observer of race, gender, equality and justice in the political and social worlds through which she moves.  At the same, she is a fiercely introspective woman willing to expose her own flaws and mistakes as she grows from a curious little girl into a women who falls in love and begins a career and family of her own.  And she is a fine writer, skillful enough to shape her multifaceted life into a coherent story of exile and home.

Msimang’s earliest memories are of her family’s home in Zambia, a home in a conventional neighborhood, a place where young, energetic Freedom Fighters gathered provided Sisonke with role models of the woman she dreamed of becoming.  Then, the family moved on to Kenya, Canada, back to Kenya, always moving on just when she felt acclimated.  She attended MacAlester College in the United States, where she made friends and sampled romance. Just as she was graduating, apartheid was ending in South Africa.  Returning there, she and others were euphoric in their sense of victory.  She began her career in human rights and justice organizations and fell in love with a man she met there, despite the fact he was a white Australian.  They married, had two children and tried to settle down.  She was awarded a Yale Greenberg World Fellowship which described why she was chosen.

She has global, regional and national experience, having worked for the United Nations as well as within the civil society sector and in private philanthropy. Until November 2012, she led George Soros’ philanthropic efforts based in Johannesburg as the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA). [Msimang] now works on human rights and Democracy with the Sonke Gender Justice Network, which has been a leading advocate of working with men and boys in promoting gender equality and is the author of a weekly column at the Daily Maverick, a leading South African online news daily.

But South Africa was still struggling.  Instead of becoming a land of equality and justice, hatred and violence flourished.  Distrubingly Msimang found herself and her family as part of the new African elite, apart from the majority of Africans.  Instead of taking another administrative position, she became a consultant and a writer.  She writes regularly for major English and U.S. journals and online.  She and her husband now live alternately in South Africa and Australia.

Obviously I am impressed with Msimang, but what struck me most was her depiction of post-apartheid South Africa, and her own recognition that she herself was part of its new elite.  The dream of harmony and equality never came true, and various groups were left with complaints about the new order.  Whites were not happy to step back from the domination of blacks that they had long enjoyed.  Many blacks continued to hate and resist both whites and the rising middle class/elites which included returning freedom fighters.  No one felt security and trust.  Although I have read other books about post-colonial countries, I found Msimang’s narrative the most nuanced.  She gave me new understanding of global dynamics and even of the hatred and violence we are experiencing in post-Obama America.

Msimang also shows us how these tensions play out at a very personal level.  She tells how a nanny for her toddlers made it possible for her to have a career, but the two woman simply had different lives and different priorities.  Msimang had to face that for all her dreams of equality, she was simply the boss who put the safety of her children above all else.  Including this incident in the book offers a nice balance with other books that highlight the perspective of domestic servants.

I believe Always Another Country is an exceptional book.  I will be urging everyone I know to read it.  I look  forward to discussing it with my book group.

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