REVIEW BY LUREN DICKENSON
First time author Gillian Lynn Katz makes an impressive debut with "Witness to the Birth and Death
of My Country" (GFI Publishing, 1999, paperback) which was inspired by her struggles adjusting to
life in the United States after spending most of her formative years in South Africa. She expands on
this theme to dramatically capture the impact of the monumental social and political changes which
have taken place in South Africa over the past threee decades on not only herself and her family but
on all South Africans, both black and white.
Much of this slim volume is autobiographical or based in some way upon the facts and
circumstances surrounding South Africa's break with apartheid. The author, who first came to the
United States as a teenager in 1966, paints some moving accounts of life for both blacks and
whites in her native, as well as her adopted land, during the pre- and post apartheid periods.
Her introspective poems examine the paradox of growing up in the wealth and beauty of South
Africa, which seem to suddenly dissapear because of the horrors, created by apartheid.
"Chicken Run," a sweeping and narrative poem, is a poignant depiction of the white South African
exodus during the apartheid era, and vivid portrait of the deep and lasting effects of these waves of
emigration on the country and its people.
"Weeding Girl," is the story of a black woman who finds that her lot in life is no better in the new
"Indelibly Black," is about a young South African black man who moves to Los Angeles and finds
that he hasn't escaped the guns and tear gas of the police.
"Highjack City," is the story of a priviledged young Jewish woman who moves to New York, and in
her loneliness, struggles with the difficulty of whether to return home for the funeral of her only
brother, who was murdered in the racial violence in Johannesberg.
The essays deal with the sudden recognition that South Africa has changed forever with the
ascendancy of Mandela while giving the sense of what it was like to live through history in the
making and to realize that one's homeland would never be the same again. The author also talks
about her meeting with Mark Mathabane who wrote "Kaffir Boy," the best-selling, true story of his
struggle growing up and becoming a prominent black tennis player in South Africa during the same
In writing the final story, "My Lost Camelot," the author grapples with the resurfacing of painful
memories of her lost youth and country, when Princess Diana and John F. Kennedy, Jr. were
tragically killed at a young age.
This collection of short stories, poems and essays will make you wish that Ms. Katz would write
more about her experiences and those of her countrymen. Reading "Witness to the Birth and Death
of My Country" will make you want to delve into books such as "Kaffir Boy" and others of that genre.
The author holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications and Advertising from Iona
College, New Rochelle, NY; a Bachelor of Arts in Literature from Purchase College, Purchase, NY,
and a Master of Arts in Writing from Manhattancille College, Purchase, New York. She now lives
with her husband and two children in New Rochelle, NY.
Director of Reading Library, Pennsyvania