Ja, No, Man

Ja, No, Man

Growing up White in Apartheid-era South Africa

Book - 2007
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"Boet,"said Kevin, "there's a jazz somewhere down by the assembly hall where okes can do what they smaak , and I hear from reliable sources that it's lekker down there."

Like most children of the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Poplak grew up obsessed with pop culture. Watching The Cosby Show , listening to Guns N'Roses, and quoting lines from Mad Max movies were part of his everyday life. But in Richard's country, South Africa, censorship in the newspapers, military training at school, and different rules for different races were also just a part of everyday life. It was, as Richard says, "a different kind of normal."

Ja, No, Man articulates what it was like to live through Apartheid as a white, Jewish boy in suburban Johannesburg. Told with extraordinary humour and self-awareness, Richard's story brings his gradual understanding of the difference between his country and the rest of the world vividly to life. A startlingly original memoir that veers sharply from the quotidian to the bizarre and back again, Ja, No, Man is an enlightening, darkly hilarious, and, at times, disturbing read.

Publisher: Toronto : Penguin Canada, 2007.
ISBN: 9780143050445
0143050443
Characteristics: xx, 321 p.

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Liber_vermis
Sep 21, 2013

Having lived in nearby Zambia for several years, when the author was an infant, I hesitated to read this book fearing it was an apologia for Apartheid. I was mistaken. Why does the author always refer to his dentist father as "Dr. Poplak"? During his sixteen years in South Africa it appears that the author's family never took vacation trips to see the amazing wildlife, stunning scenery and rural peoples of their country. Did this insular childhood affect his outlook? The author concludes his memoir with praise for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for avoiding bloody reprisals. However, Poplak was silent on his thoughts of repatriation to his homeland.

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Liber_vermis
Sep 22, 2013

Poplak simply tells the story of his life growing up as a white, Jewish kid in Johannesburg. Except for the black house maid and the gardener, blacks are absent from the memoir. But this reveals exactly what Apartheid was all about. The author emigrated with his family to Canada when he was 16 years old and about five years prior to the transition to a multiracial government in South Africa. It is also a coming-of-age saga told with much self-deprecating humour. The chapter about his indoctrination experiences in a rural boot camp reveal how the future transition might have been blood soaked. The author has provided a glossary of South African youth jargon.

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Liber_vermis
Sep 21, 2013

"I think about justice and fairness a lot while I'm in South Africa [for a visit from Canada]. ... The Truth and Reconciliation Commission comes to mind. ... How many times can you sentence a man to hang for a thirty-year career of pistol-whipping domestic servants for neglecting to carry their passes? We don't possess the capability to even those scores. Justice becomes a secondary concern, because justice is impossible where Apartheid is concerned. Forgiveness is marginally less impossible. But that's exactly what the TRC asked of the country." (p. 310)

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