Best known for her international best seller, The Bookseller of Kabul, Norwegian author, Asne Seierstad has come up with another powerhouse work of non-fiction.

Two Sisters tells the true story of 19 year old, Ayan and her 16 year old sister, Leila. On 17 October, they left their family home near Oslo, seemingly as usual. Later that day, they sent this email to their parents:

Muslims are under attack from all quarters, and we need to do something. We want so much to help Muslims, and the only way we can really do that is by being with them in both suffering and joy. Sitting home and sending money is no longer enough. With this in mind, we have decided to travel to Syria and help out down there as best as we can. We know this sounds absurd but it is haqq and we must go. We fear that ALLAH swt will say to us on the day of judgement. Please try to understand, do not be cross with us.”

The two girls come from a devout but tolerant family who had emigrated to Norway from Somalia, they were educated at a good school and enjoyed a comfortable family life. Their parents Sadiq and Sara, and their sibling Ismael are torn apart by Ayan and Leila’s decision. Sadiq embarks on a dangerous journey to try and bring his girls home.

What follows is a totally engrossing and informative account of that journey, one that takes the reader deep into the heart of the Islamic State, beyond the headlines. Seierstad provides much enlightening contextual information and a useful Islamic glossary

It was the sisters’ father, Sadiq Juma who wanted his daughters’ story told: “I want people to recognize the danger signs. We were blind. We thought it would pass. Now we know better.”

Seierstad started by listening to the Juma family and writing down their stories, interviewing friends and classmates, teachers, principals and other adults whom the girls had been in contact with in early adolescence. She subsequently tried to trace the path that led Ayan and Leila to radical Islam, to try and understand what inspired the two sisters to travel to Syria.

“I offer no explanation, neither of what attracted them to Islamic radicalism nor what propelled them out of Norway. I relate my findings.” She leaves it up to her readers to draw their own conclusions. Of approximately ninety sets of Norwegian parents whose children have travelled to Syria, only a handful came forward. The rest have remained silent.

Sara and Sadiq experienced one of the worst things imaginable to a parent: their children leaving them with no intention of ever returning.

Two Sisters is a powerful work of investigative writing. The Juma family’s heart wrenching story provides a strong core to this extraordinary book, but its real strength is its revelatory insights into aspects of modern Islamic radicalism.

Seierstad cleverly makes no judgement, but such is the strength and topicality of the narrative, the reader will be challenged not to have strong views on the book’s controversial subject matter.

Not an easy read, but a compelling and dare I say, an important look at how society can surrender to unquestioning, fanatical belief.





The year was 1899, as the old people told the story; the place a sweltering tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia in the United States of America, the heart of the “Jim Crow” South where everybody the Muse brothers knew was either a former slave, or a child or grandchild of slaves.

George and Willie Muse were black albino brothers, just six and nine years old, but they worked in the fields from dawn to dark. Until a white man offered them candy and stole them away to become circus freaks. For the next twenty-eight years, their distraught mother struggled to get them back.

But were they really kidnapped? And how did their mother, a barely literate black woman in the segregated South, manage to bring them home? And why, after coming home, did they want to go back to the circus?

At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the colour of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even ‘Ambassadors from Mars.’

This story line might sound like a work of fiction, but is the subject matter of a truly remarkable work of non-fiction, Truevine by Beth Macy. Macy writes about outsiders and underdogs, and she is the author of the New York Times bestseller Factory Man. Her work has appeared in national magazines and newspapers and has won more than a dozen national awards.

The path to writing Truevine is an astonishing example of extensive research, commitment and dogged determination. The book is the result of hundreds of interviews and decades of research.

“Harriet Muse has already been robbed of dignified work, of monetary pay, of basic human rights, all because of the colour of her skin. Now someone had come along and taken the only thing she had left, her children.”

“For more than a century, that was the story Willie Muse and his relatives told. Their descendants had heard it, all of them, since the age of comprehension, then handed it down themselves, the way families do, stamping the memory with a kind of shared notarization. The story was practically seared into the Muse family DNA.”

“And although it wasn’t entirely accurate, not to the letter, the spirit of it certainly was. The truth was actually far more surprising and, as it usually is, far more tangled.”

There is much in Truevine that will resonate with its South African readers.

Those who saw the film, “The Greatest Showman”, will have a good background to the parts of the book that deal with PT Barnum collection of oddities, the side show era and the times in which the Muse story takes place.

Racism and assault on human dignity and rights permeate much of the early narrative. And even today here in South Africa, people living with Albinism often face discrimination and ridicule.

Beth Macy was forced to play detective with finding the “truth” as it came together, piece by piece. The task started when, thirty years ago, she learned about the Muses when she began worked at the Roanoke Times in Virginia. She was told that it was “the best story in town” but that no one had been able to get the complete story due to the protectiveness of the Muse family.  She wrote a series of news articles about the two brothers died in 2001 and many years later, revisited the story and developed it further until Truevine was the result.

Beth Mace reveals that driving into Truevine today, you will still see hints of the hopelessness that hung over the tiny enclave a century before. Chestnut Mountain stands sentinel to the west, and farm plots give way to sagging trailers and tidy brick ranch houses. Joe-pye and pokeweeds wave along the roadside and sagging tobacco-curing barns, most of the logs hand-chinked by Franklin County slaves and their descendants. They are a decaying nod to the cash crop that has long driven the economy of the region, most of it farmed on the backs of minority labour.

But year after year, the past grows fainter. From slavery to segregation, from integration to globalisation, the economic history of the American South intersects in these unincorporated crossroads. Truevine is a speck of land where slaves and their descendants became sharecroppers, then sewing machine operators, then unemployed workers, finally, those who could afford to, fled…

The process of writing the book is as engrossing a read as is the Muse narrative itself. After so many decades, the extraordinary story of what really happened to the brothers has been told for the first time.

The brothers never married and retired in 1961 and lived the rest of their lives in Roanoke, Virginia. George, the oldest of the Muse brothers died in 1971 and Willie lived until the remarkable age of 108, passing away in 2001.

Mace relates that: “More than a decade later, mourners are still talking about the burial of Willie Muse, and not just because of the wind or the snow but mainly because of what happened next. The nurse, Diane Rhodes said that it had been so warm that morning and then so cold. And then, just like that, a rainbow appeared and everyone just stood there stunned. ‘And we were all of one accord. Heaven was opening the gates to welcome Uncle Willie home.’”

As can be expected, there are holes in the narrative, unable to be filled, but Beth Macy’s achievement is an outstanding one.

Truevine is written with great style, compassion and sensitivity. Some remarkable old photographs provide a vivid visual reminder of the Muse Brothers themselves and an era long past. The book is rich in detail and works on so many levels and I for one, will certainly enjoy giving this quite remarkable book a second read.


A giant among journalists



Adrian Anthony (A.A.) Gill was born in Edinburgh and was a writer and a critic. He passed away in 2016.

He was maybe best known for food and travel writing, was The Sunday Times’ restaurant reviewer as well as a television critic. He also wrote for Vanity Fair, GQ and Esquire, and published numerous books.

Gill’s writing style was often acerbic and his views and opinions controversial and he wrote on an amazingly diverse range of topics. His peers referred to him as: The Londoner everyone wanted at their table; A golden writer; A giant among journalists. Interestingly enough, he was a chronic dyslexic and had to dictate all his writing.

The Best of A.A. Gill encapsulates some of the very best of his work: the peerlessly astute criticism, the extraordinarily knowledgeable food writing, historic assignments throughout the world and his reflections on life, love and death.

His long-time book editor, Celia Hayley, who compiled this selection, says: “Adrian is gone and we are all the poorer for it: we need that fearless, dazzling, opinionated, provoking and hilarious voice more than ever. But it lives on in the writing he left behind, of which this book is just the tip of the iceberg. I hope it makes you laugh, I hope it makes you gasp, and I hope it makes you miss him.”

There are many highlights in the hugely readable book, and with the breadth of topics covered not all inclusions will have appeal.

Vegetarians will likely be umbraged by his piece about a visit to a vegetarian restaurant: “The first thing you notice is the smell, the round, mushy, slightly acidic odour of sanctimonious worthiness. We queued with a tray and surveyed the repast set out to tempt us. Vegetarians aren’t big on presentation; everything looks as if they’ve got a bulimic hippo as a food taster. The thing a diligent critic must be fair to vegetarian lunch, is a gnawing hunger. Peckish won’t do, you’ve got to be famished to pass this on to trusting peristalsis.” Hopefully things have changed for the better in the thirteen since this was penned….

For me, and I suspect for most all of the book’s South African readership, the stand out piece was the one entitled: Nelson Mandela, written in July 2008. It is a magnificently written and observed, sensitive example of AA Gill’s writing. Its setting – a photoshoot in London for Madiba to have his 90th Birthday picture taken “with a hundred folk he didn’t know”. And it contains these superb lines: ”He looks up and around and smiles this brilliant, beatific smile, a smile that could break your heart. It is the most conscience-tugging, soul-moving facial expression in the world, and he got it in jail. He came out twenty seven years later with this miraculous face, moulded and creased by injustice into a transcendent African mask, this expression that speaks every language…..”

Whether or not one shares Gill’s opinions, The Best of A.A. Gill is a beautifully compiled tribute to a man’s whose pen wrote words at a level of excellence admired by many.




The Alzheimer’s Society defines the disease this way: Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia. The word dementia describes a set of symptoms that can include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language.

Alzheimer’s is a progressive disease. This means that gradually, over time, more parts of the brain are damaged. As this happens, more symptoms develop. They also become more severe.

“It is impossible to escape the drumbeat of grim news about Alzheimer’s disease: that it is incurable and largely untreatable, that there is no reliable way to prevent it and that the disease has for decades beaten the world’s best neuroscientists. No wonder we have come to fear Alzheimer’s as omnipotent. As hopeless. As impervious to any and all treatments.”…..

Until now.

Dr Dale Bredesen, Professor of Neurology at the University of California, is internationally recognised as an expert in the mechanisms of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

In his book, The End of Alzheimer’s, he offers real hope to anyone looking to prevent and even reverse Alzheimer’s Disease and the cognitive decline of dementia.

Dr Bredesen reveals the 36 affecting metabolic factors and outlines a proven programme to rebalance them, which patients can follow with the help of a healthcare professional. There are also general lifestyle and dietary changes all readers can adopt to improve cognitive health.

Although there is much scientific evidence in the book to support Dr Bredesen’s conclusions, it is in part a practical, easy-to-use, step-by-step manual for preventing and reversing the cognitive decline of early Alzheimer’s disease or its precursors, mild cognitive impairment and subjective cognitive impairment, and for sustaining that improvement.

It is also a guidebook by which the millions of people who carry the ApoE4 gene can escape the fate written in their DNA. The protocol behind this is called ReCODE, for reversal of cognitive decline.

Dr Bredesen opens the book’s concluding chapter with this: “Give how often we hear that Alzheimer’s disease is neither preventable nor reversible, I wouldn’t be surprised if the success stories I’ve shared and the scientific research that underlies ReCODE have left you sceptical…to make the end of Alzheimer’s reality for everyone, however, will require that we update our practices from 20th century medicine to 21st century medicine and that we are proactive about our own cognitive and general health.”

“Everyone knows a cancer survivor, but no one knows an Alzheimer’s survivor. As I hope I have succeeded in showing you in this book, that is yesterday’s news. The world has changed.”

According to : “Already 62% of people with dementia live in developing countries, but by 2050 this will rise to 71%. According to South Africa’s 2011 census, there are approximately 2.2 million people in South Africa with some form of dementia.”

At the very least, read Dr Dale Bredesen’s The End of Alzheimer’s – the First Programme to Prevent and Reverse the Cognitive Decline of Dementia, make sure your medical practitioner does as well and get the conversation started.

The book and Dr Bredesen’s protocol have been called ‘phenomenal’, “a monumental work’, ‘a masterful, authoritative and, ultimately, hopeful patient guide’.

Not all that is in the book is that easy to follow, but its key elements are. I found it eye-opening, fascinating and uplifting and ultimately hopeful.




ALI – A LIFE by Jonathan Eig

There can be but a handful of people who don’t know anything at all about him, for those very few:

Muhammad Ali, who died in 2016, was an American professional boxer, three time heavyweight champion of the world. He is regarded as one of the most iconic sporting figures of the last century, if not of all time. He was a larger than life and often a controversial figure both inside and outside the ring.

“His great-grandfather was a slave. His grandfather was a convicted murderer who shot a man through the heart in a quarrel over a quarter. His father was a drinker, a bar fighter, a womaniser, and a wife beater who once in a drunken rage slashed his eldest son with a knife. These are the roots of Muhammad Ali, who was born with what he called the slave name Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr, and who ultimately became one of the most famous and influential men of his time.”

There have been many books written about Muhammad Ali, but Ali – A Life, by Jonathan Eig is the most comprehensive biography of Muhammad Ali that has ever been published.

Eig conducted over 600 interviews with those who new Ali best and has given us a captivating, comprehensive and well-balanced portrait of the man, neither idolatry nor sensationalistic in treatment.

One gets the whole Ali, from his childhood, his boxing career, his private and family life. One learns too of the many causes and issues he championed such as his involvement with the Nation of Islam, which had a profound effect on him.

These two paragraphs from the book, maybe more than any others, provide so much insight into Ali’s formative make-up:

“While his spelling and punctuation were better than his parents’, the young Cassius was a slow reader and hesitant writer. The written word frustrated him and would for much of his life. Years later, family members would say that Cassius was dyslexic. But the diagnosis was little known and infrequently applied when he was young. The only thing about school that he liked was the audience it provided. Attention was what he craved most, and he earned it with irrepressible exuberance as well as with boxing.”

“Boxing, he said, ‘made me feel like something different. The kids used to make fun of me. But I always liked attention and publicity….attracting attention, showmanship, I liked the most. And soon I was the most popular kid at the school’.

Of course, Ali – A Life extensively details Ali’s boxing career. As familiar as many will be with this aspect of his life, in the boxing chapters so much more is revealed including how the “boxing business” is conducted, it doesn’t make for happy reading.

“Sooner or later, just about every great fighter attracts an entourage. At first the athlete is flattered by the attention of people who want to be near him. He thinks the sycophants might be fun and perhaps even useful to keep around. Before he knows it, he’s travelling in a crowd with a bunch of men in possession of vague titles and even vaguer job descriptions, men who expect first-class hotels, fine food, beautiful women, and payment in cash.”

It is astonishing how many people benefitted financially from Ali’s success, and the longer he continued to fight the more they stood to gain. It is alarming just how many times Ali donned gloves and climbed into a boxing ring. After reading this book, few will view the sport of boxing in the same light. The downside of the sport is revealed in all its depressing detail in the Ali experience of it. If this is what happened to one of boxing supreme exponents, one shudders to imagine what befell those many, many fighters without Ali’s skills….

“In an early interview, a reporter asked just how much of his bragging was genuine. How much of his ‘I am the greatest and gee ain’t I pretty’ routine did he believe. He answered precisely and without hesitation: ’Seventy five percent.’ It must have been refreshing for the public to know that there were limits to his self- love. Was it possible he possessed a trace of humility?”

“Born in the age of Jim Crow, Ali lived to see a black man elected president. Just as remarkable was the arc of his own life: the son of a poorly educated sign painter became the most famous man in the world; the greatest professional fighter of his time became his country’s most important draft resister. Although he had always been ambitious and always yearned for wealth, he had somehow remained warm and genuine, a man of sincere feeling and wit. Bitterness and cynicism never touched him-perhaps because he recognised this lesson of his own life: that American society, for all its flaws, produced remarkable men from unremarkable origins. He himself, indubitably was one.”

In one of his final interviews, he assessed his own accomplishments: “I had to prove you could be a new kind of black man. I had to show that to the world.”

After reading the book, one’s take-away impression of Muhammad Ali is likely to be affected. Ali – A Life doesn’t pull any punches, there is much sadness and maybe even some disappointment. His stature as a great boxer and his positive legacy to the sport remains unblemished. Ali, the person comes across as a courageous, enormously kind, caring and generous man. Add to this, more than a dab of naivety, too little self- care and maybe too much unbridled giving of himself.

Ali – A Life is a tremendous work of biography. Astonishing both in its detail and its breadth, it goes far beyond just being a boxing biography, it is an evocative chronicle of an era and of the life of an iconic, extraordinary man.



Born in Greece, George Bizos is a revered Human Rights Lawyer. His legal career is largely associated with all the major human rights trails in the decades of apartheid. Subsequently, he acted for the ANC at the post-1994 constitutional hearings, and is on the staff of the Legal Resources Centre.

His new book, 65 Years of Friendship is the heartwarming and often heartrending story of his remarkable friendship with Nelson Mandela.

Bizos and Mandela met as law students at the University of the Witwatersrand in the 1940s. A strong relationship developed – they remained friends, colleagues, professional and personal until President Mandela passed away in 2013.

Any friendship that endured for 65 years would be rich in anecdotes. But the friendship between two extraordinary men, whose life work affected the lives of all South Africans, delivers so much more.

65 Years of Friendship delivers a magnificent personal account of this relationship. But at the same time, Bizos offers historical background to give context it.

Mandela became Bizos’ most famous client, forming part of his legal defence during the Treason Trial and again during the Rivonia Trial.

After seeing his friend sentenced to life imprisonment, Bizos became Mandela’s aide, often navigating complicated networks of the “Struggle” on his behalf. Working persistently, be it by secretly meeting Oliver Tambo in exile or arguing for the abolishment of the death penalty in the Constitutional Court years later, Bizos offered his unwavering support to Mandela and his fight for a democratic South Africa.

In George Bizos’ own words: “This is my story of our friendship as I remember it. My friend and colleague, Arthur Chaskalson, the former chief justice, one said of me: ’George has such a good memory that he even remembers things that did not happen.” I will not take it as far as that, but recognise that there are things that I have forgotten, perhaps even some that I have muddled, and for that I apologise in advance. This is a short book about a long friendship.”

Bizos pains at having lost four close friends over a short space of time: Nelson Mandela, Arthur Chaskalson, Nadine Gordimer and Jules Browde. He shared his feelings while chatting to Graca Machel and shared with her that he dreamt that the bell may soon toll for him.

Her reply: “Stop thinking about the bell tolling for you and think what your dear friends would want you to continue doing. “Bizos told her that he was trying.

Long live, George Bizos. May he continue the long walk for many years to come.

65 Years of Friendship may indeed be ‘a short book’ (too short!), but it is an absolutely delightful, witty, insightful, revealing and informative read. I savoured every page of it.







Hillary Rodham Clinton is the first woman in U.S. history to become the nominee of a major political party. She served as the 67th Secretary of State, from 21 January 2009 until 1 February 2013, after nearly four decades in public service advocating on behalf of children and families as an attorney, First Lady and Senator. She is a wife, mother and grandmother.

“In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.”

This is the Hillary that we saw and enjoyed so much on a recent episode of the Graham Norton Show.

Her new book, What Happened, is both informative and revealing and a most personal memoir. The book’s dedication sets the tone: “For the team who stood with me in 2016 and worked their hearts out for a better, stronger, fairer America. Being your candidate was one of the greatest honours of my life.”

“This is the story of what I saw, felt, and thought during two of the most intense years I’ve ever experienced. It’s the story of American history and how I kept going after a shocking defeat; how I reconnected with the things that matter most to me and begin to look ahead with hope, instead of backwards with regret. It’s also the story of what happened tour country, why we are so divided and what we can do about it.”

At times pleasingly emotional, Hillary thankfully doesn’t hold back. She also reveals a charming wit that may have been less visible in her public life

She describes what it was like to run against Donald Trump, and details the mistakes she made. Campaigning is gruelling and the insight into what it is like ‘on the road’ makes for engrossing reading.

But equally engrossing reading are the chapters in the book that detail her personal beliefs, the matters of policy that chaptered her public life and those that will anchor her life out of office.

Clinton reveals that after the election she had intended to keep relatively quiet. She says that former Presidents and former nominees often try to keep a respectful distance from politics – at least for a while.

“But these aren’t ordinary times, and Trump isn’t an ordinary President”. Surely there is nobody who could disagree with her about that.

Whatever the reasons are, Clinton was and remains a controversial figure. As a result, those who read What Happened might find in it little that will change their opinion of her. None who tread this Earth is without fault, not Hillary Rodham Clinton, nor her praise singers, nor her detractors.

Some might say that What Happened focuses too much on the hurt of that defeat and that maybe it was written to soon. Others may have wished for even more introspection as to the reasons for the defeat.

But not since the late Ted Kennedy’s excellent, True Compass, has a book taken one so deeply into the heart of the American politic and in such a page-turning way.

Speaking at her alma mater, Wellesley College after the election she asked: what do we do know? And answered “Keep on going.”

Hillary Rodham Clinton will hopefully, use the many years that lie ahead of her, to devote her energy to those causes she believes will make her country a better place for all.






The name Yotam Ottolenghi is well known to lovers of international cookbooks. He is chef-patron of the Ottolenghi delis and NOPI restaurant in London and has published five bestselling cookbooks: Plenty, Plenty More, Ottolenghi The Cookbook, Jerusalem, and Nopi: The Cookbook.

Fans old and new will find much to delight in his latest book, Sweet, which he co-authored with Helen Goh.

Goh was born in Malaysia but started her cooking career in Australia, where she had migrated with her family as a girl. After 7 years as head pastry chef at Donovans, a landmark Melbourne restaurant, she moved to London and soon joined Ottolenghi. She has worked closely with Yotam as the lead product developer for the past ten years. Helen draws widely on Asian, Western and Middle Eastern influences in her cooking – and of course, on her love of sweets.

Not holding back from the truth, they confess in the book’s Preface:

“There’s so much sugar in this book that we thought about calling it, well, Sugar. Here we are celebrating the sweet things in life. We say this not to be irreverent or flippant – we are completely aware of the current concerns about the adverse effects of sugar – but we want to make it clear that this is a recipe book full of over 110 sweet things…..there is nothing wrong with treats, as long as we know what they are and enjoy them as such.”
“The Ottolenghi way has always been about abundance, inclusion and celebration. It’s the way we’ve always cooked and it’s the way we’ve always baked. It’s the way we’ve always eaten and the way we’ve always lived.”

As a person that looks at the desserts menu first when visiting a restaurant for the first time, I can only say, hear hear!

Sweet is divided into seven sections and in listing them I have included with each a couple that have caught my sweet tooth’s eye:

Cookies and biscuits – Almond, pistachio and sour cherry wafers; Gevulde Speculaas.

Mini-cakes – Tahini and halva brownies; Blackberry and star anise friands.

Cakes – Parsnip and pecan cake with aniseed and orange; Grappa fruit cake

Cheesecakes – Fig, orange and marscapone cheesecake; Chocolate banana ripple cheesecake

Tarts and pies – Walnuts and black treacle tarts with crystalized sage; Schiacciata with grapes and fennel seeds

Desserts – Ricotta crepes with figs, honey and pistachio; Sticky fig pudding

Confectionery – Pecan and Prosecco truffles; Almond and aniseed nougat

Sweet’s recipes are mostly very doable and finding the ingredients locally should not be a problem. Their diversity of flavours and textures make for divine indulgence.

I suggest you indulge your sweet tooth to your heart’s content and then go for some intense sessions at your local gym…




I recently said to my wife that with all the books that I have reviewed for the Cape Times this year, I was still hoping to read one that “blew my mind”, then “The Choice” landed on my desk. It is my personal choice as my Read of 2017, what a book!

Here’s my review of it:

In 1944, when she was sixteen, Edith Eger was sent to Auschwitz, where she was made to dance for the infamous Josef Mengele. Over the coming months, her courage helped her sister to survive and led to her won rescue during a death march. When their camp was finally liberated, Edith was pulled from a pile of bodies, barely alive.

Today, Hungarian-born Clinical psychologist, Dr. Edith Eger maintains a busy clinical practice in La Jolla, California, holds a faculty appointment at the University of California—San Diego, and also serves as a consultant for the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy in resiliency training and the treatment of PTSD. She regularly gives lectures around the country and abroad.

In her memoir, The Choice, she draws on her experience of the Holocaust and the remarkable stories of those she has helped ever since, she shows how true freedom becomes possible once we confront our suffering.

There have been many excellent Holocaust memoirs and on that criterion alone, The Choice would easily stand up there with the best. But there is so much more to this particular memoir.

For decades since their liberation, many survivors were emotionally unable to share their stories. Dr Eger has been able to go a considerable distance further than just sharing her Holocaust story, she has used her experiences and story to help others, with the aim of “helping each of us escape the prisons of our own minds.”

The Auschwitz part of her story is a harrowing, emotional, uplifting account of the trauma she endured during and after the war. There were passages in the narrative with such emotional impact that I had to pause before being able to continue reading.

The choices Eger made that contributed to her ultimate survival are many. “The more choices you have the more doors that are open for you.”

Just one example: When she was made to dance for Josef Mengele, she discovered a piece of wisdom that she has never forgotten:

“I will never know what miracle of grace allows me this insight. It will save my life many times, even after the horror is over. I can see that Dr Mengele, the seasoned killer who just this morning murdered my mother, is more pitiful than me. I am free in my mind, which he can never be. He will always have to live with what he has done. He is more prisoner than I am. As I close my routine with a final, graceful split. I pray, but it isn’t myself I pray for. I pray for him. I pray for his sake, that he won’t have the need to kill me.”

After liberation, she understands that there will be doctors to help the survivors repair their physical health. But no one will explain the psychological dimension of recovery. It will be many years before she begins to understand that.

In 1966, Eger is handed a copy of Viktor Frankl’s “’Man’s Search for Meaning” and one particular passage has a profound impact on her:

“Everything can be taken from a man, but one thing: the last of the human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Every moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating or boring or constraining or painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how to respond. And finally I begin to understand that too have a choice. This realization will change my life.

But Eger’s post-war interaction with the subject of the Holocaust is extraordinary. In particular, the chapters, Then Hitler Won and Leave a Stone, deal with such immense issues and personal choices, they literally stopped me in my tracks and gasping for breath and I had to stop reading and reflect on things about which I had strong personal convictions, before being able to continue reading.   .

“If we are stuck in the past, we are living in a prison of our own making. Freedom is about choice, about choosing compassion, humor, optimism, intuition, curiosity, and self-expression. And to be free is to live in the present”.

An interviewer noted that she had been able to overcome her past. She said that she hadn’t but she that she had learned to come to terms with it.

The second part of The Choice features stories of Dr Eger’s patients’ transformations through therapy. These too make for engrossing reading and it is fascinating to see how she draws on the knowledge gained through her own experiences, to benefit her patients.

In her own words: “I began to formulate a new relationship with my own trauma. It wasn’t something to silence, suppress, avoid, negate. It was a well I could draw on, a deep source of understanding and intuition about my patients, their pain, and the path to healing.”

“If I understand the whole of my life, it is that sometimes the worst moments in our lives, the moments that set us spinning with ugly desires, that threaten to engulf us with the sheer impossibility of the pain we must endure, are in fact the moments that bring us to understand our worth. It is as if we become aware of ourselves as a bridge between all that has been and all that will be. We become aware of all we have received and what we can choose – or choose not – to perpetuate. Our painful experiences aren’t a liability, they are a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, an opportunity to find our unique purpose and our strength.”

As psychologist Philip Zimbardo writes in his Foreword to The Choice: “Her book is a universal message of hope and possibility to all who are trying to free themselves from pain and suffering. Whether imprisoned by bad marriages, destructive families, or jobs they hate, or imprisoned within the barbed wire of self-limiting beliefs that trap them in their own minds, readers will learn from this book that they can choose to embrace joy and freedom regardless of their circumstances.”

The Choice is a tour de force of non-fiction writing, an important book whose content should in some way or another resonate with everyone who reads it. It is a book that demands to be read more than once.




The narrative is superbly and sensitively observed and crafted. It vividly captures the feel of the turbulent days in which it is set. With the focus on family drama within a difficult social setting, detailing their everyday strugglesAchmat Dangor is an award-winning poet and novelist whose titles include Kafka’s Curse (1997) and the 2004 Booker shortlisted title Bitter Fruit. He is a former Chief Executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

His fifth novel is Dikeledi, a complex and moving tale about ordinary life during the height of the Apartheid era. The story it tells follows the lives of a family and particularly the women of various generations, who are named Dikeledi, one is immediately drawn into the characters and the situations in which they find themselves.

There are many novels in which the story line is a bit thin, but the standard of the writing makes up for it in some measure. In Dangor’s book, the writing is top notch and the narrative is brim full of incident.

The South African literary scene of today has many works both of fiction and non-fiction in which life under apartheid are key features. In Dikeledi this reality is cleverly placed in the experience of the Tau family. The effect of apartheid on much of their daily lives is interspersed among the drama of the family’s relationships and their individual struggles for identity.

Some readers might find the time-frame and geographical toing and froing between the various Dikeledis and a bit of editorial license here and there by the author a bit confusing. The story is so jam-packed with detail that at times it curbs the flow somewhat.

But these reservation aside, Dikeledi’s central threads are strong, thought-provoking and pertinent and its evocation of an era past makes for a really good read.