Friday, 7 January 2011

117 Days (First)

117 Days by Ruth First was the last new VMC to be published in 2010; I'm afraid it somewhat slipped the net in me mentioning it (mainly because it hadn't been mentioned on the list that I had seen earlier in the year, so when I arrived I did not notice that it was a VMC which I feel bad about but it was Christmas and I was opening lots of other packages!). When I did eventually get to it, I found it an absolutely fascinating little book.

117 Days refers to the 117 days of imprisonment that Ruth First underwent in 1963 for her involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. At the time, there was a law stating that people could not be held for more than 90 days, as the title illustrates, it was very easy for the state to get around that. She was arrested without warrant, or trial, and held in solitary confinement. When she was released after 90 days, she was almost immediately re-arrested (she was making a telephone call to her family). The book gives a pretty good insight into Ruth's experiences and what it was like to undergo life in a cell, the lack of space, the monotony - she describes how the highlight of each day was making a mark on the wall to indicate the passage of time, but how this could at the most take five minutes. She was eventually released, and manage to escape in 1964.

The book contains an introduction by her daughter, who happens to be the novelist Gillian Slovo, whose books I have read and enjoyed.

Just the one modern cover for this title, it doesn't look especially like a VMC, which may have been another reason why I missed it. But I see from Amazon that it is also available as a Kindle edition which is exciting (even though I do not own one and do not want to own one, it is nice to see that it is being made available to people who do like these devices!)


  1. Hi
    I read this back in the 1980s when I was studying International Relations at poly and it had a huge impact on me, a real eye opener on the nature of state power and authoritarianism.
    thanks for sharing

  2. Call me old fashioned, but I missed the days when VMCs were all fiction and biographies and travellers had their own series. The book is undoubtedly important but I fear the list has become much less defined than it used to be, to its detriment.

  3. Martine - yes, it is certainly an eye opener.

    Jane - I think you are right - I wish they were just fiction still, and I also think that quite a lot of the most recent fiction is a bit "safe"...