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An inner life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions Lost and Found in Johannesburg begins with a transgression—the armed invasion of a private home in the South African city of Mark Gevisser's birth. But far more than the riveting account of a break-in, this is a daring exploration of place and the boundaries upon w An inner life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions Lost and Found in Johannesburg begins with a transgression—the armed invasion of a private home in the South African city of Mark Gevisser's birth. But far more than the riveting account 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 realizes, is full of divisions between black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight; a place that "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 his city. 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."


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An inner life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions Lost and Found in Johannesburg begins with a transgression—the armed invasion of a private home in the South African city of Mark Gevisser's birth. But far more than the riveting account of a break-in, this is a daring exploration of place and the boundaries upon w An inner life of Johannesburg that turns on the author's fascination with maps, boundaries, and transgressions Lost and Found in Johannesburg begins with a transgression—the armed invasion of a private home in the South African city of Mark Gevisser's birth. But far more than the riveting account 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 realizes, is full of divisions between black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight; a place that "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 his city. 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."

30 review for Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mish Middelmann

    The breadth and depth of this book is a gift to me. I am so glad that a fellow white South African man has written so sensitively about growing up under apartheid, both aware and unaware of his privileges, both insider and outsider at the same time. And that he writes so lovingly about Johannesburg whether he is exposing its divisions and depravity or its transformative power and possibility. I feel as though his experience and honesty somehow validates my own. Gevisser is able to situate a very The breadth and depth of this book is a gift to me. I am so glad that a fellow white South African man has written so sensitively about growing up under apartheid, both aware and unaware of his privileges, both insider and outsider at the same time. And that he writes so lovingly about Johannesburg whether he is exposing its divisions and depravity or its transformative power and possibility. I feel as though his experience and honesty somehow validates my own. Gevisser is able to situate a very particular experience of growing up as "other" yet privileged in apartheid Johannesburg within such universal themes as the way boundaries can become thresholds. He is not afraid to paint on a wide canvas. Yet he is equally courageous to go deep and personal, from gazing clearly at privilege to sharing what it is like when the world tells you the way you love is not OK. He also opens up subjects where he can't see the whole picture - such as what it was like living across the master/servant boundaries of the apartheid yard - with an equal honesty about what he feels and senses and doesn't know. And he tells the story of being violently attacked at home with close friends without, as he put it at the book launch I attended, resorting to "the Pistorius defence." He and his friends show compassion for themselves and their situation without diminishing their hurt and outrage, and without dehumanising their attackers or losing sight of their own privilege and its impact.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ray Hartley

    Mark Gevisser's Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred is easily the best serious book written about modern South Africa. This is a very different book, a personal, intimate account of growing up in Johannesburg and a meditation on what it means to live in a city with a history of division and separation. What it shares with the Mbeki book is a command of language, a writer's mind that ceaselessly opens new doors and asks new questions and an anchor sunk deep into the muddy substrata of a nation that i Mark Gevisser's Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred is easily the best serious book written about modern South Africa. This is a very different book, a personal, intimate account of growing up in Johannesburg and a meditation on what it means to live in a city with a history of division and separation. What it shares with the Mbeki book is a command of language, a writer's mind that ceaselessly opens new doors and asks new questions and an anchor sunk deep into the muddy substrata of a nation that is impossible to define. The work of a master writer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I feel like I know Johannesburg and all its depth, secrets, and value. I guess I need to visit it now... Gevisser is a well-known, critically acclaimed writer here in South Africa, yet I struggled with his memoir. Most parts I had to force myself through, while a small portion were enjoyable and informative. I feel that me being an American with all my ignorance, I couldn't quite appreciate its mastery as much as a South African could. My favorite part was most definitely the recall of the armed I feel like I know Johannesburg and all its depth, secrets, and value. I guess I need to visit it now... Gevisser is a well-known, critically acclaimed writer here in South Africa, yet I struggled with his memoir. Most parts I had to force myself through, while a small portion were enjoyable and informative. I feel that me being an American with all my ignorance, I couldn't quite appreciate its mastery as much as a South African could. My favorite part was most definitely the recall of the armed invasion and its ramifications for both the victims and the culprits - my hands were shaking by the end of it and I had tears in my eyes. Really great commentary and navigation of the tricky waters of race, class, sexuality, and privilege in this challenging and beautiful country.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tuck

    a personal reminiscence of growing up in apartheid with the very interesting angle of using city maps to study his and his city's/country's biography. black parts of city did not exist, on paper. gevisser writes and this book is very like sebald's memory books Austerlitz a personal reminiscence of growing up in apartheid with the very interesting angle of using city maps to study his and his city's/country's biography. black parts of city did not exist, on paper. gevisser writes and this book is very like sebald's memory books Austerlitz

  5. 5 out of 5

    J.J. Amies

    A stunning and heartbreaking book. The story of a young white, Jewish, man growing up in Johannesburg, trying as a child who loved maps to understand the borders beyond which the maps stopped, and the black townships began. It is also a story of being gay, and the surprising changes that occurred there in its acceptability, protections written into the constitution at a time when other nations were not yet there. But it is also a brutally honest story of a vicious crime, and the intense struggle A stunning and heartbreaking book. The story of a young white, Jewish, man growing up in Johannesburg, trying as a child who loved maps to understand the borders beyond which the maps stopped, and the black townships began. It is also a story of being gay, and the surprising changes that occurred there in its acceptability, protections written into the constitution at a time when other nations were not yet there. But it is also a brutally honest story of a vicious crime, and the intense struggles of a liberal thinker to find forgiveness in the face of horror and degradation.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elaine Proctor

    ‘Dispatcher’ by Mark Gevisser is an important book, not only for South African readers but for the world. To review such a book is beyond my power so this is, in a sense, a simple appreciation. Every now and then the world’s seemingly unfathomable places throws up a writer who can think and feel a path through its complexity to a kind of truth that others can understand. Mark Gevisser is such a writer and ‘Dispatcher’ is such a book. Johannesburg, South Africa is his place and he suffers its cr ‘Dispatcher’ by Mark Gevisser is an important book, not only for South African readers but for the world. To review such a book is beyond my power so this is, in a sense, a simple appreciation. Every now and then the world’s seemingly unfathomable places throws up a writer who can think and feel a path through its complexity to a kind of truth that others can understand. Mark Gevisser is such a writer and ‘Dispatcher’ is such a book. Johannesburg, South Africa is his place and he suffers its cruelties and joys along with just about everyone who calls it home. In the prologue, Mark reveals that he and two dear friends were robbed and assaulted in a flat in Johannesburg in January 2012. The book concludes with a deeper description of that event and its consequences. But in between these two powerful narrative pillars, and what makes it so extraordinary, is that the writer brings us to an understanding not only of his own suffering but to that of others living in the city’s diverse geographies. ‘This is something I must never forget.’ He says in the first chapter, ‘Johannesburg, my home town, is not the city that I know.’ So, from the outset, we embark with him on a journey in which neither he nor we the reader are totally safe. He invites us to solve a mystery of this place with him and his invitation is so candid and full of promise that we are quickly bound to the journey wherever it may lead. I share a Johannesburg childhood and adolescence with the author and perhaps this is why the early part of the book is so moving to me, but I don’t think that is the only reason. I did certainly find deep traces of my own adolescence in his journey and saw reflected there my own effort to escape the map intended for me as a white South African. I had never found a way to share those routes, those pit-stops in my journey to adulthood, with those closest to me who came from more settled countries of origin. Our rites of passage did not look like the ones I heard my American husband and English, Indian and German friends describe. Ours were far more extreme, brushing the edges of danger and volatility in a deeply uncertain present. So I packed them away and forgot they were there. I had no expectation that these routes would ever be laid down as named experience and therefore given place and meaning. But they are now, in this book. But that is only the beginning of what the writer achieves. He takes us to previously invisible ordinary lives, most mysterious and quietly heroic, lived in every part of the city. He also takes us into its rivers, its underground tunnels, its buildings; all the physical features that give it its particular pathology. And, of course, we leave knowing what we didn’t know before. The eclectic intellectual universe this writer occupies and the range of his skills, makes it possible for him to stitch the disparate pieces of our city together in such a way as to make, at least from this vantage point, a whole and integrated culture, a whole identity, a whole meaning. He gives us one another and he gives us our country. Books this good do not require one to be OF that place to feel their verity. In his almost unbearable description of the attack we understand the degree of trauma the writer and his friends experienced. The very ordinariness of what follows; from the chaos of the police investigation, to their attempt to bring their assailants to justice, makes for gripping reading. What is transformative about it though is the writer’s commitment to remaining OPEN to his beloved country. And he did. He returned to throw himself into his research in Alexandra Township, he rubbed shoulders and skin, and time, with enough people to be reminded of his place amongst them. He refused to allow this terrible event to make him a reactionary man, but used it, instead, as a portal to understanding his pain and the pain of others. That is the genius of the book and indeed, of the man who wrote it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    David Smith

    The most intimate, detailed and heartfelt ode to Johannesburg one is ever likely to read. I feel privileged to have been let inside. Trying to understand the city that used to be gold? Read Mark Gevisser's book.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Derek James Baldwin

    Interesting, heartfelt, touching, this is partly an exploration of place, Johannesburg, of self and identity, of recent history, and of how all these and more become intertwined. Bookending all of this is the frightening and yet horribly prosaic home invasion suffered by Gevisser and two companions one night, in a flat near The Wilds, which I myself roamed happily and safely many years ago. Maybe what the book is not quite honest enough about, perhaps for artistic or perhaps for political reason Interesting, heartfelt, touching, this is partly an exploration of place, Johannesburg, of self and identity, of recent history, and of how all these and more become intertwined. Bookending all of this is the frightening and yet horribly prosaic home invasion suffered by Gevisser and two companions one night, in a flat near The Wilds, which I myself roamed happily and safely many years ago. Maybe what the book is not quite honest enough about, perhaps for artistic or perhaps for political reasons, is that times change, places are built, buildings demolished... we rearticulate continuously, and while this does have poignancy really all it is is the march of time, nothing terribly profound. This is the weakness of the Dispatcher metaphor which drives the narrative. Not a fatal weakness by any means. and this is definitely well worth reading, but it feels forced at times and overwritten. But very good 4.5/5

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Meh - It was a good idea in theory to write a book and using maps to "guide" the story. However, it became somewhat repetitive while at the same time not fluid enough (there was a lot of skipping around) and I decided to not finish this and went to the end to find out about the attack, as that was the only remotely interesting detail. The story of the attack was too detailed and, though my curiosity was piqued and then satisfied, frankly, it was boring to me and I ended up skimming that part as Meh - It was a good idea in theory to write a book and using maps to "guide" the story. However, it became somewhat repetitive while at the same time not fluid enough (there was a lot of skipping around) and I decided to not finish this and went to the end to find out about the attack, as that was the only remotely interesting detail. The story of the attack was too detailed and, though my curiosity was piqued and then satisfied, frankly, it was boring to me and I ended up skimming that part as well. Overall, I felt the book was a cathartic exercise for the author and not anything that really interested me. I did skip over most of it though so, maybe I never gave it a fair chance. Perhaps if you are more familiar with growing up in Joburg, it will be more interesting to you.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Gina

    I received this book as a first read. It's an interesting memoir. It has some issues with jumping around and lacking continuity. But it's a neat look at how society can divide itself both in life and in death. I enjoyed the discussion of various maps and how they tied into history. I also really enjoyed the discussions about cemeteries. It was interesting to see how similar South Africa is to the United States in segregation and discrimination and families broken apart by "passing". There were a I received this book as a first read. It's an interesting memoir. It has some issues with jumping around and lacking continuity. But it's a neat look at how society can divide itself both in life and in death. I enjoyed the discussion of various maps and how they tied into history. I also really enjoyed the discussions about cemeteries. It was interesting to see how similar South Africa is to the United States in segregation and discrimination and families broken apart by "passing". There were a lot of interesting historical tidbits that made me want to learn more about South Africa and its mining history.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    There may have been too much history to allow Gevisser free rein to share his story, because this memoir often drifted far from the personal. I also found the cartophilic moments somewhat distracting, but I think it was a necessary abstraction that allowed Gevisser the emotional distance to share as much of his city as he did. Interesting and poignant, yet not great.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danial Tanvir

    i read this book in 2 days,i bought it from bangkok this year,i read it in 2 days and liked it. it is about a young boy growing up in south africa . in johannesburg . he draws maps and the novelist nadine gordimer has been mentioned in it. it is based in south africa and the country is decribed. he is gay and gets married to a man and then he is victim of an attack.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sylvia Boshoff

    Maps are an interesting entry point into the system of Apartheid, what the maps showed and did not show. What was hidden and what was exposed. Mark Gevisser is an engaging writer, he has researched his subject matter very well. As a Joburg native, he opened my eyes to the city in a new way. His own personal struggles within the South African framework of Apartheid resonated with me at times, but his agonising over what he could have, should have noticed or done or stood up for or against became Maps are an interesting entry point into the system of Apartheid, what the maps showed and did not show. What was hidden and what was exposed. Mark Gevisser is an engaging writer, he has researched his subject matter very well. As a Joburg native, he opened my eyes to the city in a new way. His own personal struggles within the South African framework of Apartheid resonated with me at times, but his agonising over what he could have, should have noticed or done or stood up for or against became tiresome. Hindsight is 20/20. I almost felt sorry for him that he still seemed to feel guilt after being held at gunpoint in his old flat. There is the past and then there is the present, people make choices every day that have consequences. I'm not sure why he still felt as if he should be held accountable for the actions of the 3 perpetrators. He lost me there.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex Annear

    A very intimate book with details of this man’s life, past and present, which was at times moving to read but unfortunately did not add up to much for me. It was great to learn about Johannesburg, especially from the view of a white, middle-class, gay Jew growing up in the time of Apartheid. It was interesting to read about him growing up and learning about racism and how it shaped the world around him, discovering his sexuality and the world available to him at that time, and traveling away to A very intimate book with details of this man’s life, past and present, which was at times moving to read but unfortunately did not add up to much for me. It was great to learn about Johannesburg, especially from the view of a white, middle-class, gay Jew growing up in the time of Apartheid. It was interesting to read about him growing up and learning about racism and how it shaped the world around him, discovering his sexuality and the world available to him at that time, and traveling away to the United States and Paris before coming back to rediscover his home and trauma he experienced there.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Shelley Tracey

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I wanted to like this more than I did, because it was so comprehensive and well-researched, and because I learnt so much about the city of my birth, but the placing of the story of the attack near the end of the book spoilt the whole thing for me. It was as if Gevisser was saying, all this social and political history, this rich detail and extensive research is only a device to lead the reader to the most important part of the book: the trauma of the attack.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I enjoyed the second half of this book which dealt with the mine dumps in Johannesburg, but the chapter devoted to The Wilds resonated with me as we have just returned from Durban where the author could just as easily have been describing the condition of the Durban botanic gardens where we once used to proudly take all our overseas visitors. Same problems with the cycads and the similar amazing dedicated workers such as Enos Mhlanga the chief horticulturalist. The follow up to the attack descri I enjoyed the second half of this book which dealt with the mine dumps in Johannesburg, but the chapter devoted to The Wilds resonated with me as we have just returned from Durban where the author could just as easily have been describing the condition of the Durban botanic gardens where we once used to proudly take all our overseas visitors. Same problems with the cycads and the similar amazing dedicated workers such as Enos Mhlanga the chief horticulturalist. The follow up to the attack describing the police and their efforts to track down the culprits was most enlightening.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Leora

    Interesting subject but not great writing. And the all-important maps, which were so crucial to the story, were printed so small that I could not make out the details.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Esther Dushinsky

    The information and knowledge I gained made me push onward. But there is no plot line, no order and a lot of repetitive information.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    It started slow, then got really interesting then just sort of meandered. He was a very thoughtful author but sometime felt he was trying to use every word in the English language to show that he knew them. At times making it difficult to read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lezanne Maree

    I didn't actually finish the book. But unfortunately Goodreads doesn't have a "waste of time" category. It was boring. I found the narrator (and author) to be nothing more than a privileged white boy, so caught up in his own ego he doesn't realize no one cares. At least if it was well written, I could complement that but in all honesty it was lacking any form of spark. I am impressed that I could actually find a book I was willing to not finish, even if my OCD never allows me to do that. I want I didn't actually finish the book. But unfortunately Goodreads doesn't have a "waste of time" category. It was boring. I found the narrator (and author) to be nothing more than a privileged white boy, so caught up in his own ego he doesn't realize no one cares. At least if it was well written, I could complement that but in all honesty it was lacking any form of spark. I am impressed that I could actually find a book I was willing to not finish, even if my OCD never allows me to do that. I want my 200 bucks back.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir/ Mark Gevisser. Another book that feeds my interest in Africa. Gevisser, 1964-, is a white Johannesburg native from a prosperous, liberal, Jewish heritage. Journalist and author, he is gay and his sexual orientation is featured, along with racial issues. The book feels like a compilation of essays; Gevisser writes well and integrates the material skillfully. I found the book an interesting, balanced, troubling account of the current situation in South Afr Lost and Found in Johannesburg: A Memoir/ Mark Gevisser. Another book that feeds my interest in Africa. Gevisser, 1964-, is a white Johannesburg native from a prosperous, liberal, Jewish heritage. Journalist and author, he is gay and his sexual orientation is featured, along with racial issues. The book feels like a compilation of essays; Gevisser writes well and integrates the material skillfully. I found the book an interesting, balanced, troubling account of the current situation in South Africa. The author’s personal experience with the criminal world adds drama.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Roelf

    The book wonderfully captures the strange fascination of Johannesburg. For me it brought back vivid and poignant memories of living in Yeoville in the early nineties. I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in South Africa, even if you're indifferent or averse to the city of Johannesburg itself. I found it a cathartic read and it will remain in my thoughts for a long time.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Kelly

    This is an extremely well written autobiography. I read from the perspective of the city, rather than the author. Gevisser talks much about the in between spaces of the city where people who don't totally fit in exist and flourish. Be they anti apartheid activists, Jewish immigrants, gay men in Hillbrow or Soweto, or just the divides between the boundaries of apartheid city. I rate it as better than Portrait with keys, which talks to a similar experience.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Christina’s Word

    I loved this clever and exceptionally well written memoir. The author uses his childhood obsession with cartography to map his way back to his personal past, as well as to guide the reader down the streets of the history of Johannesburg. Maps define and divide, frame and exclude, and so do the boundaries of city ; we are are defined by society. Sometimes we don't fit in and we have to struggle to find who we are beyond these limitations.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Susan Smit

    Superb. This book has so many layers. Even if you are well versed in South Africa history, this book will introduce you to the small histories and experiences of those who lived in pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. Gevissser does a great job in weaving personal memory with South African history.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rose

    Johannesburg and its people by a man who grew up there. He was fascinated by maps as a child, even though they had vast blanks where the townships should have been. His discoveries of his coun`try and of himself. Nice illustrations. Johannesburg and its people by a man who grew up there. He was fascinated by maps as a child, even though they had vast blanks where the townships should have been. His discoveries of his coun`try and of himself. Nice illustrations.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    Extremely repetitive with tiring, obscure references to a street atlas of Johannesburg. Don't bother reading this trash.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Gallaway

    Beautifully written memoir about growing up gay and Jewish (and white) in apartheid-era South Africa.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Alissa

    Really wanted to like this book. I think memoir is a misnomer- totally dry and too much like a history book at times. I really wanted more details, more emotion, more family stories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Nina

    Couldn't finish this one. It's too tough. After a struggle of over a month, I'm now putting it down.

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