Book Review: Soweto To Beirut

Zadie Smith on writing says “Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it’ and this is exactly what you have done. You have told the truth about all manner of things, from childhood dreams, family dynamics, attempted suicides, panic attacks and anxiety, love, insecurity and fears, to life really. Why we read and what books actually do for us is a question as ancient as Methuselah.

For Kafka, books were “the axe for the frozen sea within us” and your book has done exactly that for me. My ice has been broken by reading and that is how I can even dare to be brave enough to write this review of sorts. Ursula K. Le Guin observed in contemplating art, that storytelling and the power of language transforms and redeems. Storytelling “is to give people the words to know their own experience…

Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want …is to give people the words to know their own experience… Storytelling is a tool for knowing who we are and what we want.”

Because self-knowledge is the most difficult of the arts of living, because understanding ourselves is a prerequisite for understanding anybody else, and because we can hardly fathom the reality of another without first plumbing our own depths, art is what makes us not only human but humane.”

I have no doubt that in the telling of your story Jedi, you got to know yourself better and got to know what you want from life’s journey.

Your journey prompted my burning desire to define more precisely who I am and what my experience has been in journeying this life.

A desire made real by my identification with the people and places you describe in relation to South Africa, particularly your mother’s attitude in relation to her grandmother’s beliefs. The fact of this identifying with the writer is the impetus given to journeying with the writer and getting to know, understand and feel one’s own story. Your story, your journey also made me feel less alone in the world and evidenced our connectedness as people, if only we would speak up as you have so bravely done.

Iris Murdoch says: “We want a writer to write well and to have something interesting to say” and this is what you have done in penning your journey. Many poets and some novelists speak to us in a highly personal manner that makes for identification and reflection. Your book does that, it speaks in a highly personal manner without being as Murdoch says “full of the fumes of personality.” which makes for bad literature.

Literature could be called a disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions and your book does this on so many levels. I cringed at your Christianity and some thoughts expressed on Israel.

On some of your descriptions of township struggles I felt we were brutalised by your characterisation of our struggles. I found myself getting angry with you for not fully understanding. In other words you evoked emotions in me and that is a good thing, that is what good literature does, it stirs us. We read stories, because like art, it disturbs us in deep often incomprehensible ways; and this is one reason why it is good for us when it is good and bad for us when it is bad.

Your journey invoked visual and auditory sensations and bodily sensations.

The sensuous nature of your art of writing was invigorating, from your hunger pangs to your sleepless state, from your struggle walking on Senegalese sand to the tough chicken you ate, my senses were aroused. If nothing sensuous is present no art is present in my view, put there was plenty of sensuousness present and thus much art. Literature stirs and satisfies our curiosity, it interests us in other people and other scenes, and helps us to be tolerant and generous.

Art is informative.

Even mediocre art can tell us something, for instance about how other people live. Your book introduces us to aspects of our continent which we often don’t hear of, food and people with gracious hearts and souls who open up themselves and experiences of their country to us through you. The generosity of spirit of many you experienced gives me confidence in not closing myself to people and experiences.

At the end of this part of your journey, I can only conclude that PTSD, is in fact not merely the journalist’s disorder but the disorder which impacts us as women, as black women in particular, as children born and raised under apartheid and capitalism and it is therefore only in continuing to struggle, in continuing to create, in continuing to be, that we will live.

Thank you for sharing your journey and I am looking forward to many many more, always rooting for you as I did while reading the book, rooting for you.

All words by Nolene Morris.


Soweto to Beirut follows a young South African Journalist on an emotional journey of self-discovery while covering conflict in Beirut, Lebanon (2006). The experience of war precipitates a deep loss of faith, triggering childhood memories of growing up in Soweto in the early 80s – with dramatic implications for relationships in her life. It’s a fast-paced journey through time and place giving you the sensation of being nowhere and everywhere at the same time. Another perspective on how intergenerational trauma can wreak havoc in the personal and professional space.

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