Reports before daybreak

Published Jul 11, 2011


Reports before daybreak

by Brent Meersman

(Umuzi, R195)

There are many books based during the apartheid era, each attempting to cast light on an undisclosed or neglected side of the bias and brutality.

Meersman’s writing is intriguing, in the sense that it makes the story compellingly real and yet it oozes mystique.

This novel follows the lives of three families, during the period 1978 to 1990, who come from different social classes, but are closely connected.

The first is a black family from Nyanga, strangled by the grip of apartheid and torn in all directions by the uncertain futures they are striving towards.

The second is a middle-class white family, their greatest oppressor being the war that has abducted their eldest and most beloved son, François.

The third family resides in the suburbs of Cape Town, is rich and afforded every luxury that could be attained from being white and wealthy during apartheid.

The person who introduces the reader to the lives of these families is Alicia, the domestic worker from the black household in Nyanga, who works for both the middle-class and the wealthy family.

Specific individuals from each family have their stories told, captured with acute precision that places the reader in their shoes and at the centre of their lives.

Each experience is presented as extremely personal, instead of having a strict “this is how it was” disposition. The effect of this is profound.

When reading François’s story, you are overcome by a jumble of emotions, the worst being the fear of death. You live his conflict, feel his patriotism and his sorrow.

On the other hand, when confronted with the hardships experienced by Alicia and her family, you embrace their anger and resilience, with François becoming the enemy.

A sense of injustice runs through the lives of the characters and, as the story jumps from one protagonist to another, you feel as if the ground is being shifted beneath your feet.

It is a peculiar tug-of-war, sawing through the fibre of apartheid, back and forth with anger and compassion.

Reports Before Daybreak is a roller-coaster ride, overflowing with emotional brilliance that can leave you reeling between light-headedness and nausea.

Meersman has taken a fresh approach to apartheid storytelling that really digs deep.

An emotional and intellectual blender, that is what this book is.

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