From Latvia to South Africa, from South Africa to America, Lorraine Lotzof Abramson traces her life and the lives of her parents and ancestors. Simplistically written, almost as if it were occurring concurrently, as she wrote it, her memories illustrate the tyranny that was the South African government and the freedom that was inherent in America’s.
As she describes growing up in South Africa, her life seems to progress like a fairy tale. She is a track star, she meets a champion swimmer; they fall in love and marry and move to America. There they raise a family and thrive.
The deeper part of the story is the story of Apartheid and the effect it has on both the white and non-white community. As a Jew, she is aware of the fact that her people have been oppressed and have escaped to South Africa, where they have become complicit with oppressors, albeit, somewhat against their will, victims of the South African way of life. Nevertheless, now they are on the wrong side of justice. She witnesses her father physically abusing the blacks that work for him when he perceives them insulting her in some minor way. Although her mom is more liberal and admits that Apartheid is wrong, she complies with all manner of its rules. In some ways, the book attempts to explain the lack of effort on their part to attempt to change or right the wrongs committed against anyone not white by excusing them because it was impossible to fight against the system without experiencing the same punishment the non-whites would have suffered. Yet, all it takes is that kind of silence to allow such cruelty to exist, to allow such crimes against humanity.
The title is a double entendre illuminating the problems caused by the color of one's skin and also highlighting her running skill which truly opens up a new world for her to explore, beyond the small village of Rietz, South Africa. Until she left the continent, she was unaware of the way others lived, the way blacks and whites, Indians and Asians, etc., lived together, but even when she knew her way of life was wrong, she did nothing to try and effect a change, but instead continued to make excuses about having to ignore the injustices to protect her own safety.
In the end, the memoir is a story about growing up under Apartheid in South Africa, a love story and a family saga, coming full circle back to Latvia where the author’s relatives still reside. History will bear witness to the oppression that existed in South Africa and also to its peaceful end under the aegis of Nelson Mandela, in spite of the repressive regime that existed there for so long, supported by a cruel population of whites, only concerned with their own welfare and security.
Mandela has not been known for his support of Israel, so I was surprised to learn that Lorraine seemed to support and admire him, perhaps it was just because of the way in which the transition from Apartheid to democracy transpired under his leadership and his lack of bitterness after having been imprisoned unjustly for 27 years. Also, I don’t think the author could have had some of the memories that she claims to have had, like the ones when she was two years old or even five. They seemed to be too vivid and exact to be credible. Most people do not have such clear, early memories. The timeline flowed as if it was in the present rather than being shared past memories. Also, the assessments and reactions to some of the events seemed far too mature for the age when she experienced them, like her response to being sent away from home. She seemed to be the perfect child. I think a great deal of poetic license was taken to make this a likeable, readable story. Perhaps events were enhanced and combined for the sake of the narrative.