Fatima Meer’s autobiography is the tale of a sociologist: one of her central aims is to reveal how an "Indian" girl born in Durban became a practitioner of a discipline barely heard of in SA in the 1940s and 1950s. But it is also the work of a novelist. In the opening chapters Meer reveals in fine detail an unconventional upbringing. Her father had two wives, one Indian and the other white, during the height of segregation in SA. She turned 20 just as apartheid became law in 1948. Meer, who died in 2010, became much more than a distinguished practitioner of her craft, engaging in politics in a manner far more innovative than many in her milieu. She lived through and participated in the seminal events of 20th-century SA: the passive resistance campaign, the defiance campaign, the treason and Rivonia trials, Sharpeville and June 1976 … all the way to 1994 and after. Her book is devoid of any sense that her life was exceptional, the narrative projecting the extraordinary as quite ordin...

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