Portraits of Power

Mail & Guardian columnist Mark Gevisser captures South Africa's transition in forty elegant, sharp and intimate profiles of people with power.

Review:

Cape Times 19 July 1996, Barry Streek:

…Gevisser is a good writer. He uses language to convey in print what he wants to say – and he does so unambiguously. He is, indeed, a pleasure to read. More than that, he is a good journalist with an eye and an understanding of the news. He relentlessly pursues and researches the people he wants to interview …He [writes] with such skill each week that it is a truly justified tribute that they have been collected together in this book. Together with the exceptional portraits, mostly taken by Henner Frankenfeld, of the people being analysed, this book provides an invaluable insight into some of the key players in South Africa today … The point of a newspaper profile is to create greater understanding of the person being profiled, and that is what Gevisser does so well.

Sunday Times 7 July 1996, Anthea Bristowe:

…Trying to makes sense out of the country’s transition is wildly ambitious, a bit like trying to document the French Revolution from behind the barricades, but Gevisser succeeds for a number of reasons. He keeps his focus tight – on power and the people who wield it – because, for better or for worse, they are the architects of the new society. Then there is his technique. His profiles are gentle inquisitions, delicately crafted affairs. For the most part, the writer stays in the background. His characters spring, fully armed, from the headlines … Gevisser’s first job is to remove the armour … From time to time he is accused of being too soft on his subjects…A good many readers with a well–developed taste for blood and gore would be only too happy to see [the subjects] pulverised in print. They are unlikely to find much satisfaction in Portraits of Power, because this is not how Gevisser works. He does not annihilate his subjects, he dissects them. The society he paints is one that ebbs and flows, where would–be demons turn out to be toothless, where intellectual brilliance can suddenly give way to supreme petulance. It is a raucous society, spiced with arrogance, passion, great dollops of paranoia, startling inncence and, occasionally, surprising humility.

Sunday Independent, Jeremy Cronin:

…here, by and large, is the fascinating, giddy story of newly acquired power and responsibility intersecting with individual personalities. There are all kinds of permutations, including authority without, privilege instead of, power …Gevisser writes with panache and a deep compassion that can also have a sting in the tail …

Cynthia Kros:

"…Gevisser’s technique does allow him to impart to his readers the flashes of mood, the repertoire of gestures, the human foibles and fragile hopes of his subjects which make them live and evoke in us involuntary sympathy … [He] takes great delight in probing the incongruities and contradictions of his subjects, and occasionally pounces on the reader with what he takes to be a startling revelation, such as the closet liberalism of controversial University of the Witwatersrand academic, Malegapuru William Makgoba. But he is gentle and playful and, despite a fondness for epigrams and cultural imagery, rarely sacrifices subtlety to rhetorical flourish. The extraordinary way in which most of his subjects, from the most prickly cabinet ministers to the frighteningly volatile singer, Brenda Fassie, have opened themselves up to his intellectual scrutiny, is testimony to that … Gevisser’s cultural references, which add humour and colour to his writing, also suggest the complex intersection of local and global influence. Trevor Manuel is, for instance, "Bogart from Bonteheuwel" … Gevisser’s ease of cultural allusion contextualises his subjects, perhaps most of all the canny Trevor Manuel, in the world … Portraits of Power is instructive and witty …"

Author:
Mark Gevisser

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Short Description

Mail & Guardian columnist Mark Gevisser captures South Africa's transition in forty elegant, sharp and intimate profiles of people with power.

Review:

Cape Times 19 July 1996, Barry Streek:

…Gevisser is a good writer. He uses language to convey in print what he wants to say – and he does so unambiguously. He is, indeed, a pleasure to read. More than that, he is a good journalist with an eye and an understanding of the news. He relentlessly pursues and researches the people he wants to interview …He [writes] with such skill each week that it is a truly justified tribute that they have been collected together in this book. Together with the exceptional portraits, mostly taken by Henner Frankenfeld, of the people being analysed, this book provides an invaluable insight into some of the key players in South Africa today … The point of a newspaper profile is to create greater understanding of the person being profiled, and that is what Gevisser does so well.

Sunday Times 7 July 1996, Anthea Bristowe:

…Trying to makes sense out of the country’s transition is wildly ambitious, a bit like trying to document the French Revolution from behind the barricades, but Gevisser succeeds for a number of reasons. He keeps his focus tight – on power and the people who wield it – because, for better or for worse, they are the architects of the new society. Then there is his technique. His profiles are gentle inquisitions, delicately crafted affairs. For the most part, the writer stays in the background. His characters spring, fully armed, from the headlines … Gevisser’s first job is to remove the armour … From time to time he is accused of being too soft on his subjects…A good many readers with a well–developed taste for blood and gore would be only too happy to see [the subjects] pulverised in print. They are unlikely to find much satisfaction in Portraits of Power, because this is not how Gevisser works. He does not annihilate his subjects, he dissects them. The society he paints is one that ebbs and flows, where would–be demons turn out to be toothless, where intellectual brilliance can suddenly give way to supreme petulance. It is a raucous society, spiced with arrogance, passion, great dollops of paranoia, startling inncence and, occasionally, surprising humility.

Sunday Independent, Jeremy Cronin:

…here, by and large, is the fascinating, giddy story of newly acquired power and responsibility intersecting with individual personalities. There are all kinds of permutations, including authority without, privilege instead of, power …Gevisser writes with panache and a deep compassion that can also have a sting in the tail …

Cynthia Kros:

"…Gevisser’s technique does allow him to impart to his readers the flashes of mood, the repertoire of gestures, the human foibles and fragile hopes of his subjects which make them live and evoke in us involuntary sympathy … [He] takes great delight in probing the incongruities and contradictions of his subjects, and occasionally pounces on the reader with what he takes to be a startling revelation, such as the closet liberalism of controversial University of the Witwatersrand academic, Malegapuru William Makgoba. But he is gentle and playful and, despite a fondness for epigrams and cultural imagery, rarely sacrifices subtlety to rhetorical flourish. The extraordinary way in which most of his subjects, from the most prickly cabinet ministers to the frighteningly volatile singer, Brenda Fassie, have opened themselves up to his intellectual scrutiny, is testimony to that … Gevisser’s cultural references, which add humour and colour to his writing, also suggest the complex intersection of local and global influence. Trevor Manuel is, for instance, "Bogart from Bonteheuwel" … Gevisser’s ease of cultural allusion contextualises his subjects, perhaps most of all the canny Trevor Manuel, in the world … Portraits of Power is instructive and witty …"

Product details

Author:
Mark Gevisser
Subtitle:
Profiles in a Changing South Africa
Format:
Paperback
Photographer:
Angela Buckland, Paul Weinberg, Henner Frankenfield, Ruth Motau, Anna Zieminski
Imprint:
David Philip, Publishers
Publisher:
New Africa Books (Pty) Ltd
ISBN:
9780864863140
Audience:
General
Pages:
192
Width (mm):
152
Length (mm):
232

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