The autobiography tends to be a somewhat self-indulgent genre. Often celebrities and politicians want to “set the record straight”, prove they’re not what everyone thought they were: shallow, greedy, dishonest… But it’s not just high profile figures who write about themselves – everyone has a story to tell. Some people’s stories are just more interesting than others.
A book with a title like Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and Me is bold and enticing enough for me to wonder how on earth these figures are grouped together. That’s exactly what veteran journalist, editor and author Marianne Thamm does with her “memoir of sorts”. At the heart of the book are questions of identity and how the past inevitably shapes the future. Thamm’s father was a member of the Hitler Youth Brigade and served in Nazi Germany’s air force during World War II. Her mother grew up under Portugal’s brutal dictator, Salazar. Thamm herself was raised in apartheid-era South Africa, witnessing its demise and the creation of a free nation under Nelson Mandela. Six degrees of separation, sometimes fewer, stand between the author and these figures.
Thamm tells her story with refreshing forthrightness and honesty, and her (often self-mocking) sense of humour infuses it with delightful colour that means it’s never boring. The book asks whether we can escape the legacy of our parents’ sins, can perpetrators of unjust systems (like whites of apartheid) find a moral compass and where do those perpetrators fit into society. Thamm also discusses sexual orientation, relationships and the adopting of her two children.
The book is a kaleidoscope tale of a changing world and changing relationships, particularly the familial ties that are painful but can’t be broken. It is witty, challenging, and hopeful.
Listen to my interview with a delightfully chatty Marianne (un-chatty authors are such a drag) or download for later:
This interview was first broadcast on PowerFm on 02 October 2016.