Book Review: Mark Gevisser – Lost And Found In Johannesburg

March 25, 2014

By BRUCE DENNILL

 

Mark Gevisser has done something quite substantial with this book. It’s an intellectual treatise that reads like a relaxed memoir, and examination of the difficulties involved in coming to terms with both his homosexuality and the changing profile of a country that always offered him an enormous amount, but always held a little back, too.

Gevisser goes into the history of Johannesburg via his memories, prompted by pictures – included in the book – of his family, of noteworthy news coverage and of isolated cultural hotspots such as the swimming pool belonging to activist and lawyer Bram Fischer, where South Africans of all races and classes would gather in times when they were not legally allowed to do so.

Gevisser’s journey – from boy to man; from curious young map reader to a professional writer who researches for a living – is told via the narrative. But the honesty in his writing reveals another expedition; one that the author appears to have experienced as he wrote the book.

This is true throughout, with his outlook possibly aided by Gevisser’s currently being a resident of Paris and thus having a perspective possible because of his being removed from the context in which he was born and grew up.

But the reality of Gevisser needing to finish this book to move from one place to another emotionally is underlined by his writing about an event that took place as he was wrapping up the original manuscript: a break-in in which Gevisser and two friends are held at gunpoint for a couple of harrowing, life-changing hours.

This event resulted in the entire book being reworked to accommodate not only the description of that night, but to figuring out how the feelings provoked by what happened fitted into the months of preparation and soul-searching leading up to that moment.

That part of the book is harrowing (particularly if you’ve been a victim of crime yourself), but necessary to provide balance to the project as a whole.

If you live in Johannesburg and have any love for the place or any appreciation for its history and its recovery from its past, Lost And Found In Johannesburg may help you to pinpoint where you stand now, emotionally, psychologically – even physically, as the boundaries Gevisser describes still exist – in 2014 South Africa.

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