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Dispatcher: Lost and Found in Johannesburg (Granta, UK, February 2014)
Lost and Found in Johannesburg (Jonathan Ball, SA, March 2014)

A memoir of place and sexuality, home and identity

As a boy growing up in apartheid Johannesburg, Mark Gevisser would play "Dispatcher", a game that involved sending imaginary couriers on routes mapped out from Holmden's Register of Johannesburg. As the phantom fleet made its way across the the troubled city's atomized geographies, so too did the young dispatcher begin to figure out his own place in the world.

With the maps and photographs he has collected over two decades, Mark Gevisser polts his path across the city of his birth, from his early exploration of his gay identity to his brutal experience, as an adult, of an armed home invasion He tracks back along his Jewish immigrant family's routs to South Africa, from Vlinius, Dublin and Jeruselam, before immersing himself in the Johannesburg of today.

In a style that balances gripping storytelling with deep lyricism and boundary-breaking pastiche, Gevisser finds himself, loses himself, and finds himself again in the city of his birth.


Advance Praise for “Lost and Found in Johannesburg” [PDF]

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Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir (Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, April 2014)

Lost and Found in Johannesburg begins with a transgression--the armed invasion of a private home in a suburb of the South African city in which Mark Gevisser was born and raised. But far more than the story of a break-in, this is a daring exploration of place and the boundaries upon which identities are mapped.

As a child growing up in apartheid South Africa, Gevisser becomes obsessed with a street guide called Holmden's Register of Johannesburg, which literally erases entire black townships. Johannesburg, he soon understands, is full of divisions between black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight; a place that, as he puts it, "draws its energy precisely from its atomization and its edge, its stacking of boundaries against one another." Here, Gevisser embarks on a quest to understand the inner life of the city of his birth.

Gevisser uses maps, family photographs, shards of memory, newspaper clippings, and courtroom testimony to chart his intimate history of Johannesburg. He begins by tracing his family's journey from the Orthodox world of a Lithuanian shtetl to the white suburban neighborhoods where separate servants' quarters were legally required at every house. Gevisser, who eventually marries a black man, tells stories of others who have learned to define themselves "within, and across, and against,"the city's boundaries. He recalls the double lives of gay men like Phil and Edgar, the ever-present housekeepers and gardeners, and the private swimming pools where blacks and whites could be discreetly intimate, even though the laws of apartheid strictly prohibited sex between people of different races. And he explores physical barriers like The Wilds, a large park that divides Johannesburg's affluent Northern Suburbs from two of its poorest neighborhoods. It is this park that the three men who held Gevisser at gunpoint crossed the night of their crime.

An ode to both the marked and unmarked landscape of Gevisser's past, Lost and Found in Johannesburg is an existential guide to one of the most complex cities on earth. As Gevisser writes, "Maps would have no purchase on us, no currency at all, if we were not in danger of running aground, of getting lost, of dislocation and even death without them. All maps awaken in me a desire to be lost and to be found . . . [They force] me to remember something I must never allow myself to forget: Johannesburg, my hometown, is not the city I think I know."


Advance Praise for “Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir” [PDF]

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A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009)

In South Africa the prosperous Mbeki clan lost everything to apartheid. Yet the family saw its favourite son, Thabo, come to lead the country’s first black government alongside Nelson Mandela and dominate its politics. Mbeki vowed to create “a better life for all” when he became president in 1999. A decade later, Mbeki was ousted by his own party and his legacy is bitterly contested – particularly over his handling of the AIDS epidemic and the crisis in Zimbabwe.Through the story of the Mbeki family, award-wining journalist Mark Gevisser tells the gripping tale of the last tumultous century of South Africa life, following the famly’s path to make sense of the liberation struggle and the future that South Africa has inherited. At the center of the story is Mbeki himself, a visionary yet tragic figure who lef South Africa to freedom but was not able to overcome the difficulties of his own own dislocated life. With unprecedented access to South Africa’s political leaders, Gevisser offers fascinating new perspectives on such iconic figures as Joe Slovo, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela, and sheds much-needed light on the irvalry between Mbeki and his successor, Jacob Zuma. – a man who was once his closest comrade. Gevisser provides vital insight to the political crisis that has torn the ruling ANC apart, and assesses the prospects of South Africa under Zuma’s leadership.

Offering ground-breaking scholarship and piercing political analysis, A Legacy of Liberation is the moving and highly-readable account of a family and its struggle to fulfill the South African dream.

Advance Praise for “A Legacy of Liberation” [PDF]
Praise for the South African edition [PDF]

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Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred - The Abridged International Edition (Jonathan Ball, 2009)

'It was the final humiliation of Mbeki, for there was little doubt on whom the machine gun [of Umshini Wam!] was trained…’

Thus writes Mark Gevisser in his sparkling and incisive new epilogue to this international edition of his much-acclaimed biography, winner of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award of 2008. Bringing his engrossing book entirely up to date in highly-readable shortened form, Gevisser sees Mbeki’s spectacular fall from office as a consequence of the ‘disconnect’ which has characterised his entire life.

‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ Mbeki often asked, paraphrasing one of his favourite poems by Langston Hughes. After his 2008 ousting, Mbeki’s own dreams appear to have been shattered. In telling the story of one of South Africa’s most compelling, perplexing and powerful figures, Mark Gevisser illuminates South Africa’s history and identity in a book destined to be a classic; one justly celebrated as ‘the finest piece of non-fiction’ of the post-apartheid era.

Praise for the South African edition [PDF]

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Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred (Jonathan Ball, 2007)

By the time he retires in 2009, Thabo Mbeki will have ruled South Africa, in effect, for the full 15 years of its post-apartheid democracy: the first five as Nelson Mandela's 'prime minister' and the next ten as Mandela's successor. No African leader since the uhuru generation of Nkrumah and Nyerere has been as influential.

Mark Gevisser's long-awaited biography is a profound psycho-political examination of this brilliant but deeply-flawed leader, who has attempted to forge an identity for himself as the symbol of modern Africa in the long shadow of Mandela. It is also a gripping journey into the turbulent history and troubled contemporary soul of the country; one that tries to make sense of the violence of the past and confusion of the present.

As Mbeki battles, in the current day, with demons ranging from AIDS to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and finds his legacy challenged by the ever-growing candidacy of his would-be successor Jacob Zuma, The Dream Deferred tracks us back along the path that brought him here, and helps us understand the meaning of South Africa, post-apartheid and post-Mandela.

This book is a story about home and exile. It is a story, too, of political intrigue; of a revolutionary movement struggling first to defeat and then to seduce a powerful and callous enemy, of the battle between unity and discord, and the dogged rise to power of a quiet, clever, diligent but unpopular man who seemed to take little joy in power but have much need for it.

Introduction [PDF]
Pictures 1 [PDF]
Pictures 2 [PDF]
Pictures 3 [PDF]

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Portraits of Power: Profiles in a New South Africa (David Philip 1996)

"When I arrived in this country in 1994 Gevisser appeared on the pages of this newspaper as a superb profile writer. Regrettably, no one has filled the hole that Gevisser left behind in the newspapers - to South Africa's collective cost. A small team of Gevissers could have made a significant difference to our political culture over the past decade. Good profiles enable ordinary people to better understand those who have power over them; in their absence, rumour and paranoia, not to mention bigotry and racism, gain ascendancy."
Richard Calland, Mail & Guardian

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Defiant Desire: Gay and Lesbian Lives in South Africa (Routledge and Ravan, 1994)

'Defiant Desire' records the lives of lesbian and gay South Africans of all races, lived in the face of censure, denial and oppression, from a drag salon in Woodstock to a gay 'shebeen' in kwaThema; from a church in a Pretoria nightclub to Johannesburg's lesbian and gay pride march; and from Afrikaans love poetry to the new activism. 'Defiant Desire' brings together South Africa's most prominent gay and lesbian writers, activists and academics. The contributors set out to refute beliefs that homosexuality is a white, male or middle-class phenomenon. Their writing makes clear and vibrant the relationship between a growing lesbian and gay rights movement and the broader anti-apartheid struggle in a time of transition and upheaval South Africa, and challenges its people to build a new society that respects and cherishes all of its citizens. 'Defiant Desire' is an articulate testimony to the range of gay and lesbian experiences in South Africa. It is both a document of lesbian and gay struggle, and an indispensable book for those interested in the sexual politics coursing beneath the country's troubled passage to democracy.

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