The writer remembers the personal struggles behind South Africa: anti-apartheid movement.
A veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, London-born Hilda Bernstein moved to South Africa when she was seventeen. She was immediately horrified by the racism she saw.
Now 82, she remembers clearly those days when she first became involved in the anti-apartheid movement. 'I can't explain why some people become activists and others don't, why some feel the need to improve the world and others don't,’ she says, speaking with a light South African accent. ‘All I know is I could see things were wrong and I wanted to change them.’
Bernstein was exiled for being an ANC agitator in 1964, along with her husband Rusty, who stood trial at Rivonia with Nelson Mandela and others accused of treason. The author has been based in Britain ever since.
It is appropriate that Bernstein should appear at the Edinburgh Book Festival alongside Gillian Slovo, with Rusty also present.
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Hilda Bernstein: ‘I could see things were wrong and I wanted to change them'
Hilda was a close friend of Slovo's parents Ruth First and .lo Slovo, the ANC's most famous white activists. Her most recent book The Rift, a collection of interviews with anti-apartheid veterans, prefigures Gillian Slovo's searing memoir of childhood, Every Secret Thing, published earlier this year.
Both books are painfully eloquent about the price paid by families of activists involved in the struggle.
'Among the children there was a great deal of anger, and an enormous amount of love and respect,’ explains Bernstein. 'It was a thing they had to resolve - as children they wanted to be the most important thing in their parents' lives, and instead they felt sacrificed to
parents taken away in the middle of the night, of the raids, imprisonments and trials. The children still bear those scars.’
It’s a judgement born out by Gillian Slovo's memoir, which shows her wrestling with the pain caused by her father's constant absences and her mother's assassination at the hands of the South African government.
’Although we were a tiny minority in conflict with everything around us, in a funny sense it was easier for us,’ says Bernstein. (Marc Lambert)
I Gillian Slovo with Hilda Bernstein (Book Festival) Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, 23 Aug, 5. 70pm, f 6 ([5). Every
'Then there was the whole trauma of seeing your
Secret Thing by Gillian S/ovo is published by Abacus at
Doris Lessing: discusses her milestone books at The Fifty, part of the Book Festival
78 "IE usr 22—28 Aug 1997
The internationally acclaimed author talks about two milestone books in her life.
Recollection counts for a lot in Doris Lessing's estimation. Of the books that have made a big impression on her, one is the foremost modernist experiment in memory and subjectivity, the other a woman’s autobiography.
’The one I admire inordinately is Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past,’ says Lessing. ‘I read it when the first translations of each volume by Moncrieff came out. I was still living in Rhodesia and it made a very great impression on me.
‘I found volume one, Swann’s Way, the most compelling then, but as I familiarised myself with the whole thing, I became full of admiration for the structure of the work.
’I really like the slow, evolving book
and it's a very complicated work in the great tradition of slow books Proust was in no hurry whatsoever, unlike most modern wnters who try to get It all over as soon as pos5ible.’
Next for LQSSIIIg IS the aUIObIOQI'deTy of Nadezdha Mandlestam, wrfe of the Russian poet OSIp Mandlestam.
‘Her name means hope and the title of the book In English rs Hope Against Hope,’ LESSIIIg explains. 'It descnbes III great detail what It was like for her living with Mandlestam, a very great poet, the persecution they endured and what it was like livmg under Sowet tyranny.’ (Deirdre Molloy)
I Doris Lessing (Book Festival) The Fifty, Fri 22 Aug, Post Office Theatre, 220 3990, 7pm, [ 6 (f3). Lessing discusses her latest novel Love, Again (HarperCo/lins) and the second volume of her autobiography, published in the autumn, Sat 23 Aug, Post Office Theatre, 77am, £5 (£3).
Question time Meera Syal
The actress, screenwriter and author of comic coming-of-age novel Anita And Me answers the questions that matter.
WORST SUBJECT AT SCHOOL I was a complete dumbo at maths. My mum and dad arranged for a private tutor but he was also an ice cream man. So Mr Whippy came twice a week to teach me algebra and parked his van outside.
FIRST FILM YOU SAW IN THE CINEMA We went to see Mary Poppins when I was six but my Mum got the times wrong so we saw One Million Years BC with Raquel Welch in a leopard skin bikini, which scared the wits out of me. It put me off going back for quite a while.
MOST HATED JOB I've never had a paper round or a proper job that wasn't acting or writing. My parents always believed that you're only young once, so even when l was a student they let me spend my summers doing what I wanted.
BEST HOLIDAY It was a working holiday — I did Caryl Churchill's Serious Money in New York over two weeks at Christmas and spent most of my time exploring the city.
PHOBIAS I've always been claustrophiobic, but I'm alright in lifts as long as they’re biggish and I don’t have to stay in them too long.
IDEAL ACTING ROLE I've always wanted to do Katherina in The Taming Of The Shrew or be in anything with Victoria Wood.
FAVOURITE BOOKS THIS YEAR Arundhati Roy's The God Of Small Things and Roddy Doyle’s The Woman Who Walked Into Doors.
COMIC HEROES Victoria Wood, Woody Allen and The Simpsons. HOW WOULD YOU LIKE TO BE REMEMBERED? As a good mother and someone who made a
A difference even in a small way.
I Meera Syal (Bool: Festival) ESPC Studio Theatre, 24 Aug, 3 30pm, f3 ([2. 50) Anita And Me is published by Flamingo at [5. 99.