Read The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu by Kimberly Burge Online


Born into post-apartheid South Africa, the young women of the townships around Cape Town still face daunting challenges. Their families and communities have been ravaged by poverty, violence, sexual abuse, and AIDS. Yet, as Kimberly Burge discovered when she set up a writing group in the township of Gugulethu, the spirit of these girls outshines their circumstances.Girls sBorn into post-apartheid South Africa, the young women of the townships around Cape Town still face daunting challenges. Their families and communities have been ravaged by poverty, violence, sexual abuse, and AIDS. Yet, as Kimberly Burge discovered when she set up a writing group in the township of Gugulethu, the spirit of these girls outshines their circumstances.Girls such as irrepressible Annasuena, whose late mother was one of South Africa’s most celebrated singers; bubbly Sharon, already career-bound; and shy Ntombi, determined to finish high school and pursue further studies, find reassurance and courage in writing. Together they also find temporary escape from the travails of their lives, anxieties beyond boyfriends and futures: for some of them, worries that include HIV medication regimens, conflicts with indifferent guardians, struggles with depression. Driven by a desire to claim their own voices and define themselves, their writing in the group Amazw’Entombi, “Voices of the Girls,” provides a lodestar for what freedom might mean....

Title : The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780393239164
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 384 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Born Frees: Writing with the Girls of Gugulethu Reviews

  • Just
    2019-04-17 14:30

    It is important to note that the first and last words in this amazingly potent read come not from the author Kimberly Burge but from two young women growing up as the first generation of children coming of age in post-Apartheid South Africa. That is the crux of this book and its core. While Burge is a character in her own book, this is not about her. Burge spent a year in Gugulethu, South Africa, in a small church running a writer's club for girls. Through the course of the book we see her year through the eyes and more importantly the words of these amazing young women. Even the name they chose for the group, "Amazw'Entombi" sounds so much like "amazing" though it really means "Voices of the Girls." Taken on the surface and reviewing the facts alone this should be a most depressing book. South Africa is still in political, social and economic chaos with violence towards women, high unemployment and strong racial issues still dominating the day to day lives of its peoples. These girls all have stories that could be whole novels themselves with frightening tales of rape, abuse, abandonment and tragic loss of parents to violence and the ever present HIV that plagues the country. But this isn't the case for the young women of Amazw'Entombi. Through their words and the gentle and curious observations of the author we find that even in that kind of a world these are still young ladies who share the joy of music, clothes, friendship, sisterhood and a deep love of country and hope for the future. We see them grow as writers and speakers as they learn to express interests from the immediate day to day concerns to hopeful and longing for a better future. I fell in love with these young women and I think anyone reading will, too. More importantly to me is this book avoided the cliche "American hero saves troubled South African youth!" Burge says is clearly and I felt this sentiment on every page of the book: "I didn't go to Gugulethu to rescue these girls. They did not need me, or anyone, to save them." Burge surely writes from the heart but also takes plenty of time to give the reader a bird's eye view of South Africa through a perspective of history as well as addressing the current events that surround these young women. This was a beautiful book that ends too soon. Like a writing prompt she gave the girls in the book, I want to see them at 25, 45 or even the nearly unobtainable 75 by current South African standards. Based on the verve and willingness to embrace life that we see these ladies live I am certain we may very well hear these stories but I won't be surprised when they write it in their own books.

  • Liralen
    2019-03-30 17:31

    Burge spent a year in Cape Town on a Fulbright scholarship, running a writing group for girls. This is the new South Africa, and the girls she was working with were 'Born Frees'; they had been raised in a country in which they had legal options, although the reality of those options was sometimes shaky: Democracy earned every South African the right to pursue happiness and prosperity equally, in theory. In reality, the extremes are more sharply defined now. The country is the third most unequal place on earth, after Comoros and Namibia, in the Gini Index ranking of distribution of family income. (148–149)Truth be told, whatever advantages Annasuena had inherited as she began life remain unrealized. As a young South African, she was one of the 'Born Frees.' Finally, her country now granted freedom to everyone with her skin color. But freedom implies choice. Annasuena had already seen her life, her future, even her own body altered by choices made by other people. What could freedom mean for her? (3)But Burge's point is not that life is difficult in South Africa; her focus is more on the girls themselves and how they were getting by, and making progress, in spite of those difficulties. The writing group wasn't about improving their writing or getting into better schools—rather, the aim was simply expression and connection. And there, Burge succeeded.Before I went to South Africa in 2010, a friend told me, only half jokingly, that she expected me to come home with a baby I'd adopted. I did not, nor did I bring home a teenager. I didn't go to Gugulethu to rescue these girls. They did not need me, or anyone, to save them. Annasuena, Ntombi, Sharon, Manlakazi, Gugu, Sive, Olwethu—these young women are saving themselves, making their own way through life over whatever obstacles have been placed before them, whatever shortcomings of their own have held them back. (322)Outside personal experience, Burge does not present a tremendous amount of new information. It's not hard to find statistics on South Africa or the difficulties of township life. But...she makes a point to separate generalities (e.g., of those difficulties) from the realities of teenagers: would Annasuena, mentioned in the quotation above, want things to be different, to be on more secure financial footing and for the country to be less dangerous for women? Yes, of course. But either way, she's a young woman, strong-minded and strongly opinionated, growing up and figuring out what's next.The emphasis of the book remains on the young women Burge met and worked with and followed, as it should. Burge writes it as a personal journey, but not a life-defining one and not one that is solely hers. Not something the book could do, of course, but I wish we could see them ten or fifteen years in the future.

  • Glendora
    2019-03-23 10:38

    Burge has succeeded where a lot of narrative non-fiction struggles. In tackling a topic like the realities of post-apartheid South Africa, she uses a micro approach to a macro subject. Her structure was her strongest feature -- in introducing us, one by one, to the girls she met at her writing workshop, she gives a brief history of their lives and family circumstances, which help us understand the many overlapping challenges faced by the Born Free generation. She writes clearly and dispassionately, and we learn a great deal about the persistent systemic obstacles related to HIV and violence against women, and how these big issues have a ripple effect across numerous societal circumstances.The book could easily have veered into the saccharine -- all the elements were there, from the very concept of a white woman coming to teach African girls about writing to the fact that most of the action takes place on church grounds. But Burge's honesty about her own vulnerabilities and her willingness to acknowledge the very cliches some could find objectionable make her a storyteller with credibility.

  • Amy Creedon
    2019-04-17 16:23

    This is a fantastic book. I think Kimberly Burge did a great job telling the stories of these young women. Some of the stories at heartbreaking but she managed to weave in stories of hope throughout out the book. I also feel that I learned a lot about he struggles of the Born Frees, the first generation of black women in South Africa born after the end of Apartheid. Kimberly, what you did for these girls is amazing. You listened to them when no one else was willing to hear their voices. I highly recommend this book!

  • Pam
    2019-04-12 11:22

    I love, love, love this book--in part, because I so relate to the author. Like Kimberly Burge, I lived in another country, working with youth on writing and storytelling. And she made me so nostalgic for that experience. (Although I am still working the the youth today, I am not allowed back into Gaza, where I lived--due to my deportation by Israel.) I only wish I had written a book like Burge did. She made me love the girls she wrote about, because she allowed me into their lives. What a gift!

  • Rana
    2019-04-09 17:29

    A great read on post apartheid South Africa. It’s also a call to put passion in one’s work, because this is what gives meaning to life. It’s clear that the author was personally and deeply involved in the welfare of the girls of Gugulethu rather than approaching her job in a stiff academic manner.

  • WilliamKnight
    2019-03-27 16:21

    This wonderful book by Kimberly Burge covers a writing club she formed and managed for a year in South Africa. The club consisted of girls from the surrounding area, all born after Apartheid ended. Since they are the first generation born in South Africa after the end of 300 years of government oppression, they are known as the Born Frees.The reader quickly discovers a huge disconnect between the girls and their parents' and grandparents' generations, who grew up and lived under Apartheid. The boundaries and rules their forebearers learned are completely foreign to the Born Frees; the reverse is also true as the new liberal rules are often the antithesis of what the older generation learned to accept. The generation gap in South Africa as these girls grew up makes any such gap in our lives as Americans pale in comparison.Of course, any change of this magnitude is not a smooth process. Advancement is made in small steps; difficulty with acceptance of change can cause regression that sometimes wipes out any forward progress.To add a huge complicating factor, the outbreak of HIV, leading often to full-blown AIDS reaches epidemic proportions in South Africa right after Apartheid ends. This hits the black population very hard, especially because tradition gives any man the right to have intercourse with any woman he chooses, no matter how she feels about it. This is changing in South Africa, but it has a long way to go to match up with the rest of the world. Additionally, there is a massive disinformation campaign on how to treat those with HIV. Many, including some in high government office, don't believe the anti-viral medications that are proving effective in the US and other countries actually slow the progress of HIV. Superstitious cures abound, including that a man with HIV can be cured by having sex with a virgin. This leads to a large increase in abuse of girls and women, including babies, as desperate men seek a cure. This activity only increases the number of those who contract HIV, of course. Most of those who develop full-blown AIDS either do not have access to the necessary medications or cannot afford them, so they die very quickly.Kimberly Burge went to Africa on a Fulbright scholarship for one year. She planned to form a group for Born Free girls to help them develop their writing skills. She will organize and lead the group. Church and charity organizations helped her connect with a Presbyterian church in Gugulethu, a small city in South Africa. Ms. Burge met with church officials and arranged a room in the church for Saturday afternoon meetings. The local church officials helped her find girls who fit the criteria for membership among the population of Gugulethu.Soon, she meets weekly with a rotating group of up to 25 girls or so. At first, the girls are mostly reluctant to write, but with Kimberly suggesting topics, they soon improve. The book chronicles the changes many of these young people experience as their writing skills improve and they get comfortable sharing their writing with Kimberly and their peers by reading aloud to the group. Ms. Burge even gets most of the girls to eventually lead some sessions, starting with the more self-confidant ones and adding more as the others become comfortable with sharing their thoughts with the others.The book chronicles the changes these girls go through as their confidence increases and as they mature. Details of their living conditions are also revealed, allowing the reader to develop an understanding of how this affects the Born Frees' growth and confidence. Most of the girl have lost their parents, many to HIV and AIDS. They live with their extended families in overcrowded conditions, sometimes sleeping three to a bed. Most of them have been molested at one time or another, resulting in many of them becoming HIV positive. Sharing this condition is vital, but doing so can lead to being shunned and avoided by their families and neighbors.I found it heartening and fascinating to follow the Born Frees as they improved their skills and matured throughout the year covered by the book. They mainly took the obstacles in stride and got on with their lives, some better than others, as would be expected. Ms. Burge made several followup visits over the next few years after her initial year-long trip and was able to update the status of many of her students. The strides made by many were heartening and foretell a bright future for them and for South Africa. The progress of many of the girls was partially offset by those who did not live up to their own expectations, but overall, the positives outweighed the negatives by a wide margin.I'd recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand South African history. It would be ideal for high school classes and for book clubs. Read it, you'll be glad you did.

  • Mary
    2019-04-07 10:46

    An important book that I'm going to share with my writer's group. The style is journalistic and the cast of characters large, so it won't appeal to readers looking for thrilling adventures. But, for those looking for stories of brave young women finding their voices, this book is perfect. Many of these girls are aids orphans or half-orphans; many are extremely poor. All are bright and determined, and the obstacles some of them have to face are incredible. I still can't believe the way little Annasuena's family treated her! Ultimately, this is a book about empowerment and truth. Very worthwhile, and recommended for older teens and adults.

  • Julie Trapp
    2019-04-08 15:46

    This was an okay book. However, with probably just as many inner-city girls here is the good old US of A (LA, NY, DC, Chicago, Philly, Detroit to name just a few) why not look in our own back yard for young girls to help out of poverty, depression, homelessness & give them a chance to express themselves, gain confidence in themselves & maybe go to college when it was thought not possible. I'm not impressed by those, like Ms. Burge, who think they have to go to another country to accomplish what would be welcome in many communities here in America.

  • Beth
    2019-03-28 11:46

    This book represents the lives of a few girls in South Africa in a way that humanizes their struggles and hopes. Burge's writing treats these young women as individuals and shows both the positives and tough circumstances for this generation in South Africa. I wish that I would have read this book prior to going to South Africa last year, but am so glad to have read it now as it gives further context to my experience.

  • Tarah Fedenia
    2019-04-18 11:32

    This book taught me a lot about the recent history of South Africa and the girls in the book inspired me a lot. There are many parallels that I found between their history and US history. There are also common threads of traumatic experiences that women commonly have worldwide and a call for more attention to these important issues. I related to and learned from the courage and experiences of the girls from the Born Free generation in this book.

  • Sherri
    2019-04-08 17:45

    Kimberly Burge has written a lovely book about the young women in the writing club she started in Capetown, South Africa, making the young women come alive on her pages and releasing their stories and their voices to the world. In the process, she also elevates the process of writing to a place it deserves, giving the girls a place to be free, creative, and safe.

  • Thomas Ryan
    2019-04-10 16:35

    An enjoyable look at Gen Born Frees in the new South Africa. Many of the small profiles of the girls in their writing class are interesting but the book shines brightest when it tackles in sociological details the problems of township life in post Mandela SA.

  • Anna Chappell
    2019-04-04 17:36

    A good look at the girls of South Africa who formed a writing group with a Fulbright scholar. I did like the balanced look at their lives, and wanted to know more about each girl!