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 
anti-apartheid regime.

"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 
period.

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.

Luren Dickenson
Director of Reading Library, Pennsyvania