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“Stones Against the Mirror”: Review of Hugh Lewin’s ficto-memoir

Book cover of Stones Against the Mirror.

Stones Against the Mirror is written by Hugh Lewin, a South African anti-Apartheid activist who spent seven years in gaol for crimes of sabotage against the state. Hugh was sent to gaol by his best friend Adrian, also an anti-Apartheid activist. This is a story of friendship, betrayal, and forgiveness.

The book begins at a train station where Lewin will travel to meet with Adrian Leftwich for the first time since Adrian’s betrayal. The story weaves in and out of Lewin’s early years in South Africa and his time spent as a member of ARM blowing up electrical pylons with Adrian and other activists – an almost forgotten part of the South African struggle against Apartheid.

It is not an easy story for Lewin. And his writing reminds me of a famous quote from German painter Otto Dix, “all art is exorcism.” This is extremely poignant for his lost friend Adrian, who also penned a short story entitled, I Gave the Names, where he chronicled his betrayal and guilt.

Lewin writes, “Give us back the bones, so that we can know.” And this not only resonates with his own personal story, but for South African History in general. Give the reasons for how Apartheid began and was policed and we can move on. Give the motivations so that there can be forgiveness.

This book has some pretty heartbreaking descriptions, especially from Lewin’s time on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, TRC. And the matter-of-fact way things like hangings are recounted are haunting and overwhelming at times.

I have not had a lot exposure to South African literature outside of the big names like J.M. Coetzee, but I am hoping to change this one book at a time. If you are looking for a truly amazing read then I would suggest Stones Against the Mirror. And if you can find it, you should also read Leftwich’s I Gave the Names.

Have you read Stones Against the Mirror? Do you have a favourite South African author or book? I would love to hear about it. Remember to share the reading love.