Monday, March 17, 2008

Forgive Me: A Review

Two months ago, I was offered the opportunity to review Forgive Me by Amanda Eyre Ward. Ever since then, I have been reading a few pages here. A few more there. Maybe five or six pages before bed. Partly because of my mommy exhaustion and partly because I just didn't love the protagonist in the story, my progress on this project has been slooooow. I finally finished the last chapter a few days ago.

A review in the back of the book said that when you finish Forgive Me, you want to go back and start all over again. So true. Ward's novel is ambitious in topic, scope and theme. And in the end, it didn't all quite hang together for me. But that being said -- there were lots of highlights.

The story follows Nadine - journalist, bad girl, independent spirit and damaged goods wrapped into one. Desperate to escape a painful past and the present, Nadine (twice) escapes provincial Cape Cod to pursue her career as a journalist. Her work takes her to South Africa, where the heart of the book takes place.

Through Nadine's experiences in South Africa, Amanda Eyre Ward tackles the difficult and fascinating topic of the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings that took place in South Africa following apartheid. Truth and reconciliation hearings are a process now used widely across the world (sometimes successfully and other times unsuccessfully) following unrest in a country. Truth and Reconciliation Hearings have occurred in countries ranging from Peru to Sierre Leone.

Here is basically how the process works (in extremely oversimplified terms): the wrongdoer (and often the wrong is the killing of a person or entire family) stands up and admits what he did, often including the details of how a person was killed and where his remains are). The family of the deceased then has a chance to address the wrongdoer, often accepting the apology and asking that the wrongdoer not be punished any further. The intent is to help people who have been through periods of tragedy and unrest to move on with their lives.

There is something to this, I think. What a fascinating alternative model for "justice" (whatever that means). Can you even imagine something like that taking place in the United States? If the concept of truth and reconciliation hearings interest you, read Forgive Me for a moving account of what families on both sides experience. Also check out the Artemis Project at Yale, which is attempting to chronicle all of the transcripts from all of the truth and reconciliation hearings that have taken place across the world -- a ambitious and noble objective.

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