Experiments with Truth: Narrative non-fiction and the coming of democracy in South Africa by Hedley Twidle
13 Jun 2019
Over the last decades, South Africa has seen an outpouring of life-writing and narrative non-fiction. Authors like Panashe Chigumadzi, Jacob Dlamini, Mark Gevisser, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, Antjie Krog, Sisonke Msimang, Njabulo Ndebele, Jonny Steinberg and Ivan Vladislavić have produced a compelling and often controversial body of work, exploring the country’s ongoing transition with great ambition, texture and risk.
Experiments with Truth is the first book-length account of the new non-fiction in South Africa. It reads the transition as refracted through an array of documentary modes that are simultaneously refashioned and blurred into each other: long-form analytic journalism and reportage; experiments in oral history, microhistory and archival reconstruction; life-writing, memoir and the personal essay. The case studies here trace the strange and ethically complex process by which actual people, places and events are shuffled, patterned and plotted in long-form prose narrative.
While holding in mind the imperatives of testimony and witness so important to the struggle for liberation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the book is increasingly drawn to a post-TRC aesthetic: to works that engage with difficult, inappropriate or unusable elements of the past, and with the unfinished project of social reconstruction in South Africa. The case studies place southern African materials in a global context, and in dialogue with other important non-fictional traditions that have emerged at moments of social rupture and transition.