Book review: Hitler, Verwoerd, Mandela and me
A memoir of sorts by Marianne Thamm, published on 19 September 2016 by Tafelberg Publishers.
Journalist, writer, comedian, mother – Marianne Thamm is a force of nature and this book explains why and how this is so in a thoroughly entertaining way. The child of Hitler’s fascist Germany and Salazar’s communist Portugal, born in England and then raised in Pretoria, South Africa, her coming of age in the 1970s is fertile ground for rebellion – and rebel she does.
The book is ultimately a voyage around her father – he of the Hitler youth and also Verwoerd’s defence apparatus – a man who she struggles to accept and understand on many levels, but ultimately makes her peace with. These voyages are perforce both umbilical and exasperating: she navigates hers with a mixture of bemusement and amusement – and often outright outrage. It is a rocky journey but it is full of surprise, warmth, humour and love.
The book is significant on a number of levels – as Thamm herself says, her uber-conservative father’s karmic fate was to have a lesbian daughter and black granddaughters. And, on top of that, she is an immigrant. So Thamm knows from difference and diversity – and thrives on it. There is no doubt that the book asks us to do the same and I certainly hope it converts a few fascists away from their homophobic, racist, sexist laagers.
Many an anecdote in the book paves the way for this, not least the one where Thamm asks an unwisely swaggering drunk on the promenade where she is walking hand in hand with her girlfriend: “What do you want? Why would I choose you, toothless and drunk, when I have such beauty by my side?” Enough said.
Another side to Thamm is her day job as Assistant Editor at the Daily Maverick, a progressive South African news provider that has delved deeper than most into the rot at the heart of the ANC. Thamm has been amongst the chief delvers and although she does not dwell on this aspect of her life at length, her unapologetic love for Mandela stands as clear counterpoint to the corruption she unearths in her work. Ultimately, she hopes that the youth of today will rise up against the rot and demand something better of their leaders. We can only trust that her hope is well placed.