South African apartheid ended in 1994, but the past lingers painfully in the country's institutions and the minds of its people, as journalist Eve Fairbanks recounts in her first book, The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa's Racial Reckoning. Eleven years in the making, this mesmerizing analysis of South Africans navigating a world that changed almost overnight follows three ordinary South Africans over five tumultuous decades: Dipuo, an anti-apartheid activist in the 1980s; her daughter, Malaika; and Christo, one of the last white South Africans drafted into the military to enforce apartheid.
Chronicling the shifting attitudes and emotions of her three subjects, Fairbanks creates an intimate and empathetic portrait of South Africans wrestling with new political, social and economic realities. Dipuo begins as a young, outspoken woman not above violence to achieve the end of apartheid, but who experiences an array of disappointments with Black political leadership in her later years. Malaika inherits her mother's early rage and lashes out at "the drip-drip quality of white people's concessions" in which "every curriculum change was a fight, every move to make a black person the head of a leading bank or university" an exhausting one. Christo, the ex-soldier who hints at his regrets for his own role, comes nearly full circle, "willing to turn himself into a pariah" with the creation of an all-white, all-Afrikaner dorm. The Inheritors is a deeply felt and eloquently written account of a nation--and its people--still wrestling with angry ghosts of the past. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver