LITTLE LIBERIA: AN AFRICAN ODYSSEY IN NEW YORK CITY
ON Park Hill Avenue in New York City, almost everyone is Liberian. Most people know one another; if not by name, then by face. And yet neighbours do not ask one another what they did in Liberia, for the question is considered an accusation. Many people here fled Liberia’s brutal civil war, a conflict that claimed the lives of one in fourteen Liberians. The question of who is responsible is a bitter one.
Jacob Massaquoi arrived on Park Hill Avenue in 2002 limping heavily. Before he had been there a week, a hundred stories abounded about his injury. By this time Rufus Arkoi was the acknowledged leader of New York’s Liberians, a man who had sat out the war in America, but who harboured hopes of one day returning home to run for president. Within a year the two men were locked in a conflict that threatened to consume the community. The suspicions and accusations the residents had bottled up for years exploded at once. To observers it appeared that this enclave of exiles was frozen at the time of their flight, restarting a war that had ended back home.
Jonny Steinberg spent two years in New York shadowing Rufus and Jacob, eventually journeying to Liberia to piece together their biographies from the people who once knew them. What emerges is a story of a horrific and heart-wrenching civil war, of a deeply troubled relationship between America and West Africa, of personal ambition wrestling with moral responsibility, of memory wrestling with forgetfulness and of the quest to be human in a world losing its humanity.
Mixing history, reportage and a wealth of extraordinary personal stories Jonny Steinberg takes up the tale of a fractured African nation and its diaspora to remarkable effect. Little Liberia is a unique and important book, told with clarity and compassion, by one of our best and brightest young writers.
An extraordinary, stylistically varied mix of reportage, history and biography, which is revealing about the author as well as about his subjects, and about the vagaries of memory and motive... [A] skilled and compassionate chronicle — Guardian
Steinberg delivers a wrenching account of Liberia's civil war, interwoven with a subtle portrayal of the anguish of exile... Little Liberia's appeal is universal — Financial Times
Jonny Steinberg has an unerring eye for personal stories that show wider realities in microcosm... A moving depiction of both a life in exile and a country in turmoil — Metro
Published in January 2011 by
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published in February 2011 by
JONATHAN BALL PUBLISHERS
Published in January 2012 by
Paperback, 286 pages
In the UK, Three-Letter Plague was published by Vintage in December 2008 and by Vintage Digital in July 2011
Three-LETTER PLAGUE: A young man's journey through a great epidemic
When people die en masse within walking distance of treatment, my inclination is to believe that there must be a mistake somewhere, a miscalibration between institutions and people. This book is a quest to discover whether I am right. — Jonny Steinberg
JONNY Steinberg’s groundbreaking work of reportage about pride and shame, sex and death, and the Aids pandemic in Africa is a masterpiece of social observation. Following the huge critical success of Midlands and The Number, Three-Letter Plague has already received great acclaim in the United States (where it was released as Sizwe’s Test).
At the end of a steep gravel road in one of the remotest corners of Lusikisiki in the old Transkei lies the village of Ithanga. Home to a few hundred villagers, the majority of them unemployed, it is inconceivably poor. In the broader world, most would consider it entirely inconsequential. It is here that award-winning author Jonny Steinberg explores the lives of a community caught up in a battle to survive the ravages of HIV/Aids. He befriends Sizwe Magadla, a young local man who refuses to be tested for HIV despite the existence of a well-run testing and anti-retroviral programme. It is this apparent illogic that becomes the key to understanding the dynamics that thread their way through a complex and traditional rural community.
In this eye-opening, compassionate, searing and beautifully written book, Steinberg seeks to understand the Aids crisis in South Africa. As he grapples to get closer to answers that remain maddeningly just out of reach, he realises he must look within to unravel some of the enigmas surrounding an epidemic that has corrupted souls as much as bodies.
In this vivid account of a journey to the frontline in the battle against AIDS, Jonny Steinberg portrays with acute perception the impact of the epidemic on village life in a small rural community in South Africa. — Martin Meredith, author of Diamonds, Gold and War
Thin Blue was published by Jonathan Ball Publishers in 2008
THIN BLUE: THE UNWRITTEN RULES OF POLICING SOUTH AFRICA
A COUNTRY is policed only to the extent that it consents to be. When that consent is withheld, cops either negotiate or withdraw. Once they do this, however, they are no longer police; their role becomes something far murkier. Several months before they exploded into xenophobic violence, Jonny Steinberg travelled the streets of Alexandra, Reiger Park and other Johannesburg townships with police patrols. His mission was to discover the unwritten rules of engagement emerging between South Africa’s citizens and its new police force.
In this provocative book, Steinberg argues that policing in crowded urban space is like theatre. Only here, the audience writes the script, and if the police don’t perform the right lines, the spectators throw them off the stage. In vivid and eloquent prose, Steinberg takes us into the heart of this drama, and picks apart the rules South Africans have established for the policing of their communities. What emerges is a lucid and original account of a much larger matter: the relationship between ordinary South Africans and the government they have elected to rule them. The government and its people are like scorned lovers, Steinberg argues: their relationship, brittle, moody, untrusting and ultimately very needy.
Published in 2008 by
JONATHAN BALL PUBLISHERS
Sizwe's Test was published in the US by Simon & Schuster in February 2008
SIZWE'S TEST: a young man's journey through africa's aids epidemic
AT the age of twenty-nine, Sizwe Magadla is among the most handsome, well-educated and richest of the men in his poverty-stricken village. Dr Hermann Reuter, a son of old South West African stock, wants to show the world that if you provide decent treatment, people will come and get it, no matter their circumstances.
Sizwe and Hermann live at the epicentre of the greatest plague of our times, the African AIDS epidemic. In South Africa alone, nearly six million people in a population of 46 million are HIV-positive. Already, Sizwe has watched several neighbours grow ill and die, yet he himself has pushed AIDS to the margins of his life and associates it obliquely with other people's envy, with comeuppance and with misfortune.
When Hermann Reuter establishes an antiretroviral treatment programme in Sizwe's district and Sizwe discovers that close family members have the virus, the antagonism between these two figures from very different worlds — one afraid that people will turn their backs on medical care, the other fearful of the advent of a world in which respect for traditional ways has been lost and privacy has been obliterated — mirrors a continent-wide battle against an epidemic that has corrupted souls as much as bodies.
A heartbreaking tale of shame and pride, sex and death, and a continent's battle with its demons, Steinberg's searing account is a tour de force of literary journalism.
Published in February 2008 by
SIMON & SCHUSTER
Hardcover, 368 pages
Paperback, 368 pages (October 2010)
Print edition available at
Notes From A Fractured Country was published in November 2007 by Jonathan Ball Publishers
NOTES FROM A FRACTURED COUNTRY: THE BEST OF JONNY STEINBERG'S BUSINESS DAY COLUMNS
IN this selection of columns, Jonny Steinberg walks through Pollsmoor Prison on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and believes he sees in the jail’s corridors why the US’s impending war in the Middle East will fail. He meets a poverty-stricken old man who spends most of his state pension maintaining a black Mercedes-Benz, and explains why this shows that government’s welfare programme is working. He tells us why he thinks Thabo Mbeki is an Afro-pessimist and why a South Africa ruled by Tokyo Sexwale will be as riddled with corruption as Silvio Berlusconi’s Italy.
Steinberg has an eye for the strangeness of our fractured country. For the last five years, he has been recording the things he sees on his travels across South Africa in his fortnightly column on Business’s Day’s leader page. Here are the best of those columns.
Published in November 2007 by
The Number: ONE man's search for identity in the cape underworld and prison gangs
ON 9 June 2003, a 43-year-old coloured man named Magadien Wentzel walked out of Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town. Behind him lay a lifelong career in the 28s, South Africa’s oldest and most reviled prison gang, for decades rumoured to have specialised in robbery and rape.
In front of him lay the prospect of a law-abiding future, and life in a household of eight adults and six children, none of whom earned a living.
Author Jonny Steinberg met Wentzel in prison in the dying months of 2002. By the time Wentzel was released, he and Steinberg had spent more than 50 hours discussing his life experiences.
The Number is an account of their conversations and of Steinberg’s journeys to the places and people of Wentzel’s past. It is a tale of modern South Africa’s historic events seen through the eyes of the country’s underclass. The book is an account of memory and identity, of Wentzel’s project to make some sense of his bewildering past and something worthy of his future.
Published in 2004 by
JONATHAN BALL PUBLISHERS
Trade Paperback ISBN 1-86842-205-4
Paperback ISBN 1-86842-233-X (Published in 2005. Reprinted in 2005)
IN the spring of 1999, in the beautiful hills of the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, a young white farmer is shot dead on the dirt road running from his father’s farmhouse to his irrigation fields. The murder is the work of assassins rather than robbers; a single shot behind the ear, nothing but his gun stolen, no forensic evidence like spent cartridges or fingerprints left at the scene. Journalist Jonny Steinberg travels to the midlands to investigate.
Local black workers say the young white man had it coming. The dead man’s father says the machinery of a political conspiracy has been set into motion, that he and his neighbours are being pushed off their land. Initially thinking that he is to write about an event in the recent past, Steinberg finds that much of the story lies in the immediate future. He has stumbled upon a festering frontier battle, the combatants groping hungrily for the whispers and lies that drift in from the other side.
Right from the beginning, it is clear that the young white man is not the only one who will die on that frontier, and that the story of his and other deaths will illuminate a great deal about the early days of post-apartheid South Africa.
Midlands sears into the heartland of post-apartheid South Africa — and leaves naught for our comfort — Tony Weaver, Cape Times
Published in 2002 by
Crime Wave, a collection
edited by Jonny Steinberg,
was published in 2001
Crime Wave: The South African Underworld and its Foes
A collage of South African scenes, Crime Wave offers a vivid and somethat eclectic combination of eyewitness commentary and analysis. Guided by some of the country's leading crimonologists, sociologists, independent researchers, investigators and prosecutors, we attend the funeral of a gangster and listen in on in-depth interviews with car hijackers.
The authors offer a cutting appraisal of the intelligence and detective services in light of the Western Cape bombings, and look at why violence persists in the taxi industry and at what's wrong in the prosecution services in South Africa.
Finally, we're offered a shocking and sometimes humorous investigation into how crime statistics are compiled and interpreted, and are asked to look realistically at how crime can be fought in our young constitutional democracy.
Published in 2001 by