Lost and Found in Johannesburg, A Memoir

Lost and Found in Johannesburg, A Memoir

Book - 2014
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"An inner-life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions"-- Provided by publisher.
"An inner life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions This singular memoir begins with a transgression--the invasion of a private home in Johannesburg. But it is far more than the story of a theft. Lost and Found in Johannesburg is a luminous exploration of place, one in which the author's and the reader's assumptions are constantly being tested. As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, Mark Gevisser was obsessed with maps--and with Holmden's Register, Johannesburg's street guide, in particular. He played a game called Dispatcher with this eccentric guide, transporting himself across the city into places that would otherwise be forbidden to him. It was through Dispatcher that he discovered apartheid by realizing that he could not find an access route to the neighboring township of Alexandra and, later, by realizing that Soweto was not mapped at all. This was the beginning of his lifelong obsession with maps and photographs, and what they tell us about borders and boundaries--how we define ourselves by staying within them or by transgressing them. This memoir is an account of getting lost in one's hometown, and then finding oneself as a gay Jewish South African who was raised under apartheid and who eventually married a man of a different race as the country moved toward freedom. Using maps, shards of memory, photographs, and stories, Gevisser constructs a stunning portrait of race and sexuality, heritage and otherness"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
ISBN: 9780374176761
Branch Call Number: 92 G337L 2014
Characteristics: x, 328 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm


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Feb 18, 2015

Mark Gevisser grows up Jewish, gay, well-off, and white in South Africa. His childhood is spent playing "Dispatcher," with a book of Johannesburg maps, navigating real and imaginary trips around the city. He realizes there's no way on the map to get from the rich suburb where he lives to the poor township where his family's servant lives. In the apartheid years of his childhood, family photos show no blacks or coloreds except as servants, yet they are everywhere once he looks. Rich white friends open their yards and pools to black and colored friends on Sunday afternoons. There white family picnics go on, with illegal cross race sexual activity in pools. He'd been oblivious as a kid. Against this backdrop, he developed his own guilty sexuality. Sent to Yale, he comes out where it's safe, marching in Pride Parades, being active in HIV/AIDS work, while back home the worst of the anti-apartheid violence is happening without him. Coming home, he feels survivor's guilt. Finally he writes of a home invasion by three armed black men one night, when he visits two lesbian friends. The drunk men tie them up, trash the apartment, one takes a woman into another room, and sexually assaults her, meanwhile they threaten to kill them all. Afterward, the (black and colored) police are nonchalant, the trauma officer insists the three of them must react with rage. What they really feel is fear; nothing will ever be the same. Gevisser is asked to pick out the leader from a lineup, and, unsure, does so. Before this man goes to trial, Gevisseer goes home to Paris, where he lives part time with his colored husband (South Africa's constitution permits same sex marriage), returning as needed. Another man's been arrested, who the three are certain had nothing to do with the attack; Gervisser's less and less sure the man he IDed was there either. But he testifies, and the judge (no juries in South Africa) gives him the highest possible sentence. He remains haunted by the attack, the convicted man, his family, including a very pregnant girlfriend. A moving, poignant, haunting story, with no clear edges or boundaries. 5 stars, in spite of some disorganization.


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