YA Eco Mysteries, Memoirs, Novels & Travel
Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid
Growing Up White in Segregated South Africa
Claire Datnow’s memoir, Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid, vividly transports the reader to the distinctive sensual and visual texture of South Africa of the 1940s, 50s and 60s, capturing the spirit of the time and place with precision and insightful observations. Through intimate portraits of her family and their lives, she sheds light on the strange interactions between the races governed by South Africa’s iniquitous Apartheid system, evoking the ambiguities between the races living together yet apart. At the conclusion of her memoir she explores what lead her to leave her family and her privileged life to immigrate to the United States.
5.0 out of 5 stars
A Gem Born a Highveld Childhood, June 11, 2011
This review is from: Behind The Walled Garden of Apartheid: A Memoir (Paperback)
Every life has its unique rhythms and secrets and revelations. Claire Klein Datnow’s *Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid: Growing Up White in Segregated South Africa* is an honest, lyrical memoir of her Jewish girlhood in Johannesburg. Born in the pivotal year of 1939, Claire was a child of the times. Her father was a Lithuanian immigrant and her mother was born in South Africa. Her father owned a store that catered to multiple races; both parents worked long hours. At home, there were servants to watch the children. Claire absorbed the lessons and privileges that went with having white skin very early. She drank in her family's Jewish identity and heritage, even as Ma admonished her not to act like a greenhorn like her Pa. And while Claire's love of reading was inherited from and nurtured by two generations of strong-willed women, she was kept insulated from the harsh realities of Apartheid by equally strong whitewashed walls. *Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid* is the story of her journey out of this insular blindness into the truths of her life.
I was given my copy of *Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid* shortly after Yom Hashoah. It was a such a gentle parallel to the WWII Jewish diaries/memoirs I'd immersed myself in; it was a voice of actual childhood. As I read Claire's words, I heard echoes of my own childhood in the American South. I again felt the awkward rawness of having lived in a culture of "us versus them." And it occurred to me that many of the truths in *Behind the Walled Garden of Apartheid* are universal. Growing up is shedding the blinders of childhood and seeing your world as it really is - both good and bad - and choosing to become the person you're meant to be. Claire Klein Datnow’s book is personal and rare, because it's *not* cloaked in the buffer of "autobiographical fiction." This is the first Apartheid memoir I've read told from the Jewish perspective. And it left me wanting to know *more.*
Kayla Rigney (USA)
I read your memoir very quickly over the holidays--soaked it up, you might say--and keep forgetting to bring it back to the office to share with co-workers. In any case, I very much enjoyed reading it. Your ability to bring your memories to life – to describe smells and sensations that are part of day-to-day life, particularly in childhood -- is a gift. Now I just want to know more about what life was like in the U.S. having left the Apartheid system! And what has it been like living away from your home country for so many years? Well, I hope that you have plans to write more.
Laura Anderson, Archivist, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
It’s a heck of a story, seemingly honestly told. I got more and more interested in it as it went along. I don’t think I could write that honestly about my parents, or tease out as well what I believed and how I behaved in the 1950s rural Tennessee in which I grew up. I loved the quotations that opened chapters.
Dr. James Brown, Historian, Samford University
I was particularly impressed by the way the author managed to convey her experiences and those of her contemporaries from the inside as it were.
Russell Martin, Publishing Director, David, Philip Publishers
I found this memoir extremely fascinating and enjoyable to read. The authors' descriptions of the environment and natural world are absolutely lyrical, and show a great love of nature—I’m surprised she didn’t become a biologist or ecologist. Her insights into the diverse traditions of the South Africa people are perceptive and illuminating.
Dr. Janice Roberts, Microbiologist, Jefferson State
On a long flight to Boston your book had been my companion. Almost laughed out loud when I read that your Mom's remedy for a cough was a goggle moggle as that was my Mom's home cure as well. I finished the book and really enjoyed it--such a candid look at the evolution of the country through your eyes. I had the privilege of traveling to South Africa a few years ago with several staff and board members of Facing History.
I marvel at the beauty and complexity of the country. I will share your memoir with other members of our staff.
Rachel Shankman, Senior Director, Facing History and Ourselves
I was so taken by it. Never before have I read something that related so closely to my own experience. As a teenager I liked reading Nadine Gordimer's very early autobiographical novel, called The Lying Days?. Have you ever come across it? It's hard to find now. Anyway, I liked that book because it referred to things that were familiar, compared to all the English novels that were available. But your book, now, just hit the reminiscence spot! I really liked the way you expanded on the whole apartheid history, you did an excellent job of that. Congratulations!
Bea Alden, Author
Claire Datnow has written a beguiling memoir which successfully combines well-documented history and fascinating biography. Therefore, her work is both informative and entertaining as she presents the sociology and atmosphere of South Africa’s apartheid culture as experienced in her own evolving life from early childhood to maturity. With humor and modesty, she leaves the reader with the impression of having shared in the daily life of a family which will not soon be forgotten, and of a country which surprises in its complexity and drama.
Grace Marquez, Professor emeritus, Birmingham Southern College
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