Cover image for The mirror at midnight : a South African journey
The mirror at midnight : a South African journey
Hochschild, Adam.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Viking, 1990.
Physical Description:
viii, 309 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


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DT2247.B56 H63 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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History lies heavily on South Africa, and Adam Hochschild brings to bear a lifetime's familiarity with the country in an eye-opening work that blends history and reportage. Hochschild looks at the tensions of modern South Africa through a dramatic prism: the pivotal nineteenth-century Battle of Blood River -- which determined whether the Boers or the Zulus would control that part of the world -- and its contentious commemoration by rival groups 150 years later. This incisive book offers an unusual window onto a society that remains divided. In his epilogue, Hochschild extends his view to the astonishing political changes that have occurred in the country in recent years -- and the changes yet to be made.

Author Notes

Adam Hochschild was born in New York City in 1942. As a college student, he spent a summer working on an anti-government newspaper in South Africa and worked briefly as a civil rights worker in Mississippi in 1964. He began his journalism career as a reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle. Then he worked for ten years as a magazine editor and writer, at Ramparts and Mother Jones, which he co-founded. He has also written for The New Yorker, Harper's Magazine, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times Magazine, and The Nation.

His first book, Half the Way Home: A Memoir of Father and Son, was published in 1986. His other books include The Mirror at Midnight: A South African Journey; The Unquiet Ghost: Russians Remember Stalin; Finding the Trapdoor: Essays, Portraits, Travels; King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa; Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves; and To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. He teaches writing at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Unlike all the instant experts on South Africa, some top U.S. journalists have written fine books about the apartheid confrontation--from Pulitzer Prize winner Lelyveld to New Yorker writer Finnegan. Hochschild and Mufson continue in that tradition. They combine a relaxed narrative style and an outsider's view of the whole picture with a depth and subtlety that come from traveling all over the country and listening to many individual voices for a long time.Hochschild, one of the cofounders of Mother Jones magazine and author of the Notable book Half the Way Home [BKL Je 1 86], integrates history, popular myth, and the contemporary political scene as he travels the route the Afrikaners took on the Great Trek 150 years ago from Cape Town over 1,000 miles into the Transvaal. He looks at what really happened, how the Trek became an inspiration for Afrikaner nationalism, and, above all, what is happening today among whites and blacks in the towns and country places along that route.Mufson's focus is black politics, especially the crucial black uprising from 1984-86, which he witnessed closely as staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal (the South African government expelled him in 1987). His very detailed, serious analysis is written with style and drama, enlivened with quotes, interviews, eyewitness accounts, and anecdotes from an astonishing variety of ordinary people--"mineworkers and students, parents and playwrights, shopkeepers and shopstewards, `comrades' and clergy." He includes a useful fact sheet, notes, and bibliography.Both books are highly recommended wherever there is a serious interest in South African politics. ~--Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In a stunning blend of reportage, travelogue, history and meditation, Hochschild focuses on the Great Trek of 1836-1839, when Boer coastal settlers, armed with muskets, ox whips and Bibles, staked out the borders of modern South Africa. He reenacts the pivotal Battle of Blood River in 1838, in which countless Zulus were massacred, and explains how Dingane, tall, stout chief of the Zulus' military kingdom, was demonized later by white historians. Today the Great Trek is part of ``the 150-year-old national myth of Afrikaners- as-victims.'' Turning to reportage, Hochschild ( Half the Way Home ), who visited South Africa in 1988, interviewed the head of a neo-Nazi group, a ``coloured'' (racially mixed) teacher who spent 10 years in a black-only prison, and the four Watson brothers, rugby stars who have been targets of repeated assassination attempts for refusing to play on all-white teams. An epilogue covers events up to the present. One of the most illuminating books ever written on contemporary South Africa, this biopsy probes the racial divide in razor-sharp prose. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Hochschild, a cofounder of Mother Jones magazine and author of the acclaimed memoir Half Way Home ( LJ 5/15/86; an LJ ``Best Book of 1986''), here takes readers on a journey back to the Battle of Blood River in 1838. This was a pivotal point in South African history, Hochschild says, since it was the beginning of white South Africans' sense of manifest destiny and the root of their current apartheid policies. Antagonism between Dutch and English settlers in South Africa led to a great trek to supposedly unclaimed land; Hochschild shows how this was really achieved by displacing (and killing) the native black inhabitants. In the retelling of this history, Hochschild gives readers food for thought and reassessment about modern South Africa, and provides American readers with some uncomfortable parallels to our own sense of manifest destiny and treatment of natives. Many good books on South Africa have been published recently, but this offers an intriguing new perspective. A good choice for all libraries.-- Louise Leonard, Univ. of Florida Libs., Gainesville (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

School Library Journal Review

YA-- A plethora of books about apartheid and South Africa have appeared in this column recently, but Hochschild's book puts forth a historical outlook explaining modern South African problems. By retelling the story of the 1838 Battle of Blood River, he focuses on conflicts between Dutch and English settlers as they moved into ``unclaimed'' land and thus uprooted and killed native blacks. Hochschild indicates that feelings of apartheid had their beginnings here. This is a strong addition to African history sections, and bright, mature YAs will draw comparisons to this continent's white man and the Native American.-- Mike Printz, Topeka West High School, KS (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.