The book “Country of My Skull” has been written by Antjie Krog, who strives to include her own as well as other individuals’ stories about the creation, development, and conclusion of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The truth and reconciliation commission was in charge of uncovering past wrongdoings in Africa and was established to bring the perpetrators and criminals to justice. The books have been the center of much debate as the author has not followed any clearly defined chronological order but rather, the fragments of the testimonies of survivors, victims, and criminals have been included. History, personal reflection and exploration are popular themes are incorporated in this book, as the author doubts her existence in comparison to the existence of the Africans in the stories.
Summary of the debate
There are essentially two schools of thought concerning the accuracy and effectiveness of the book. Some readers of the book state that, although horrifying, the book is an excellent reflection of the atrocities that took place during the apartheid, while others say that it is significantly distorted and fictionalized. Therefore, it cannot be taken completely in a serious manner.
Combination of autobiography and other people’s testimonies
The combination of the autobiographical structure and the testimonies of other individuals lead to a very emotionally heavy book. The reader is subjected to the innermost thoughts of the author as well as the people that she encountered. The vivid imagery from the recollection of the brutal episodes that occurred during the Apartheid of Africa leaves the readers emotionally stressed. Accounts of bombings, beatings, rapes, and murder squads remind the readers of German Nazis (Country of My Skull, 2010). For instance, the death of Bheki has been described via testimony in the following manner: “They held methey said, ‘Please don’t go in there’ I just skipped through their legs and went inI found Bhekihe was in pieceshe was hanging on piecesHe was all overpieces of him and brain was scattered all around.that was the end of Bheki” (Krog, 2010).
It has been stated that the books contain exposure, confession, amnesty, and reparations with hints of morality (Gerhart, 2016).The TRC was an important institute in bringing the atrocities of the apartheid to the forefront of the justice system. However, the combination of autobiography and people’s testimonies regarding the role of the TRC’s in the book might leave the reader confused about the whole incident. Since the author herself states that the role of TRC regarding healing might have been minimal, “If the TRC is regarded as an effort to create a forum for victims to bring some form of balance to the political ideal of amnest, then the commission succeeded in a most remarkable way. The experiences of the victims did indeed become part of the national psyche and part of our country’s acknowledged history for very first time. But in terms of repairing and healing the trauma of the victims, the TRC itself was the first to declare that this was, singularly, its biggest failure” (Krog, 2010). On the other hand, the testimonies were able to provide the readers with an insight into what the citizens of Africa had faced during the apartheid and the terror that had engulfed them. Although the book is not a highly popular book regarding pleasant historical recollections, the terror, and sorrow that was captured in the book managed to reflect the horrors that were faced by the Africans during those trying times. For instance, as one testimony states: “At that moment, I was trembling, because I was afraid what might have happened to my husband — because if his car is burnt down like this, I was wondering what happened to him. Nyami was there for me and I was only twenty at the time and I couldn’t handle this” (Krog, 2010). Such narrations help fulfill the purpose of the book, which was to bring the victim’s experiences and traumas in front of the international communities.
Distortion or Fictionalization of some of the Testimonies or Facts
Since the book has heavily borrowed information from external sources and is of historical significance, therefore, it has been blamed for some distortions of fictionalizations. For instance, in the case of Nomonde Calata’s recollection and testimony, the author has been blamed to have portrayed the woman as a sobbing picture of grief and sorrow, who has for years lived under the shadow of what had occurred to her husband. The part where Calata demands an answer for her husband’s disappearance has been conveniently omitted by the author as they did not serve the purpose of grief and sorrow, but rather showed strength.
The effect of her telling other people’s stories for them
The effect of the author in telling and narrating the stories of the subjects and participants in the book, rather themselves, is interesting. Since the words have been passively related in some areas and include the author's reflections as well, therefore, there is considerable risk of the text to be biased and prejudiced. Even though the author narrates the stories of both the criminals as well as the victims, the reader is still lead to believe in the oppression of the Africans on behalf of their counterparts as well as the white men.
Overall effect of Krog’s use of such Controversial Techniques
The overall effect of Krog’s controversial views is confusion and devastation. Since the book entails so much suffering and first-hand and second-hand narration of the some of the events that took place during the apartheid, therefore, the reader feels distraught and helpless. Although, the book can be regarded as an autobiography, it cannot be completely classified as the same due to the unorthodox method of compilation and presentation of past events. In fact, it is because of the unusual presentation that the book has been the subject of considerable critique. It does not fit into the typical definition of an autobiography or history. The reader indulges deeper and deeper into the despair and dark horrors of the apartheid. In fact, since the author realizes the impact of the tragedy on the victims of the event as well as the readers she places a poem at the end of her book in an attempt to rectify the incident:
“I am changed forever.
I want to say: Forgive me
Forgive me Forgive me
You, whom I have wronged,
Please Take me With you" (Krog, 2010).
In my opinion, the book was very challenging to get through and even slightly confusing as it followed an irregular pattern, which was not typical of most autobiographical or historical books. Even though the reality of the TRC and the apartheid might have been slightly altered, for the purpose of book writing, the author has managed to touch sensitive issues and highlights the sufferings of the victims, whose voices might have been otherwise ignored by the world history.
Conclusively, it can be stated that the both sides of the argument have valid points regarding the positive and negative impacts of the text provided in the book. In, the light of these opinions as well as my own, it can be stated that the book provides a significantly important insight into the role of the TRC’s in Africa, even though some portions of it might have been slightly fictionalized.
Country of My Skull. (2010). Retrieved from https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/antjie-krog/country-of-my-skull/
Gerhart, G. M. (2016). Country of My Skull. Retrieved from https://www.foreignaffairs.com/reviews/capsule-review/1998-09-01/country-my-skull
Krog, A. (2010). Country Of My Skull. New York: Times Books.