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Hugh Lewin’s Stones against the Mirror Launched in Johannesburg

Hugh Lewin

Stones Against the MirrorIt’s not often that a book launch in South Africa manages to fill up an auditorium, but Hugh Lewin is a name that certainly manages to pull crowds. As a result the guests at the Boekehuis launch of Lewin’s Stones Against the Mirror were ushered to an auditorium in the nearby Media 24 building, which was soon filled to capacity.

After being introduced by Boekehuis manager Corina van der Spoel, Lewin opened the launch by reading a short extract from the book – an extract that quickly indicated to those of us who had not yet got a copy that we were dealing with a deeply-personal, poignant exploration of the past and journey to, if not reconciliation, at least a semblance of peace.

Maureen Isaacson, the Sunday Independent’s books editor, then led a discussion with Lewin and explored the main themes of the work, of which the most significant is that of betrayal. In 1964, Hugh Lewin’s closest friend, Adrian Leftwich, was detained by the security police in Cape Town. Under torture he had given Lewin’s name, which led to him being arrested for anti-Apartheid sabotage. He spent the next 7 years in prison. After a lifetime not being able to forgive Leftwich, Lewin decided to travel to try and face his former friend. By recording his journey from Park Station, Johannesburg to York Station, UK, Lewin examines the meaning of human connection and commitment.

Isaacson was in a unique position to ask Lewin questions about his journey as she had been witness to the profound changes of sentiment within him over the years. She recalled how she had interviewed Lewin in 2003 after the publication of Leftwich’s article “I gave the names” in Granta magazine, and the finality of Lewin’s affirmation of his parting with Leftwich. Yet in 2010, when she spoke to him again, he told her that he had gone to visit his old friend.

“Betrayal is a many-sided thing”, said Lewin, “a thing that creates a prison of its own nature in your mind. I needed to move beyond the bitterness, but I did not know how I would feel without it.” Despite being a Commissioner for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Lewin struggled with his own reconciliation, something he describes as “complex” and “messy”, which often takes far longer than one would think.

“It’s been a struggle writing about the struggle”, Lewin writes in the epilogue of this work – a simple statement that encapsulates his journey.

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