Student Comrade, Prisoner Spy by Bridget Hilton-Barber

Reviewed by: TBBManiac Robs

Being a born and raised South African I have learnt a fair deal about Apartheid, in fact it’s the predominant period focused on in schools, or at least it was when I was still a school girl. What I failed to ever consider was reading about it from the perspective of individuals who were involved on either side of the fence back then. I received this book from Penguin Random House in return for an honest review. Here are my thoughts.

 Bridget Hilton-Barber enrolled at Rhodes University to study journalism, belonging to a liberal minded family she found herself joining the resistance movement against apartheid. Freedom parties, rallies and peaceful protest are all things which soon become second nature to her and like-minded students. What Bridget doesn’t realise is that one of her closest friends will turn out to be the one to put her and many of her comrades behind bars.

Hilton-Barber has an incredible way with words, as she describes the scenes which unfold before her, or the people that she meets, she manages to grab you and bring you along for the ride. I enjoyed the poetic way with which she wrote though I’ll admit there were times I could skip almost a whole page with little being lost by way of plot, one could call it poetic over kill maybe?

Having seen and experienced the things she did, I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it must have been to revisit her past, to capture the moments and events which would eventually lead to her PTSD, to share it with the world. I felt an air of therapeutic release as I read, as though by writing she has given those who lost their lives another chance to find peace in their eternal rest, knowing their story has found another portal from which all people of our nation may learn and grow.

 There is no sensitivity in this book, no refining of difficult memories or softening of devastating experiences. We are given a  raw, human look into the stories which we aren’t taught about in school. We are told of people whose names will be remembered only by their family and friends. It’s agonizingly real and raw. But I appreciate that, I like knowing I’ve been given a real perspective and not one tinted by rose.

 I feel I need to read Olivia Forsyths book though.  Agent 404 was written before Student Comrade, Prisoner spy and so when I finally finished SC,PS it was as though I’d watched a tennis match with only one player. I need both sides of a story and it felt to me like this was exceptionally one sided, almost a last dash attempt at having the final say. Despite Forsyth’s actions being so completely treacherous, and certainly therefore worthy of mention, I feel that it completely overshadowed the rest of Hilton-Barbers experiences.

 This is a book I feel would be hugely beneficial as bonus reading material for all history students, or for any person interested in obtaining some understanding of the ‘silent warriors’ of apartheid. It has left its mark on me that’s for sure, I don’t foresee this book ever leaving my shelves – it’s that kinda book which you keep and go back to, if for no other reason than to remind yourself that even the darkest of clouds have a silver lining. Our history does not define us, nor should it destroy us.

Review Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

More Information:

Published by: Penguin Random House South Africa; 1 edition (December 16, 2016)
Published Date: December 16, 2016
Genre:  Biography / Memoir / Historical



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