Monday, 16 August 2010


I have never been to South Africa but Steve Jacobs made me feel like I had been there in the hot long summer of 1990 when a middle aged lawyer, Jeremy Speilman decides to defend a young, confused, helpless black man accused of a horrible crime.
The book opens on a thrilling note with Themba grabbing a baby and running for his dear life, a murder commited by a seemingly crazed lunatic but the excitement stops right there.
The story revolves around these two major characters who form an odd bond and of how apartheid and racism in the mindsets of people shook up the whole nation during this trial and all its consequences. It is told through the voice of Jeremy Spielman, the narrator who is also the centre of the whole plot.
Jeremy is the reason I love this book because his voice rings so clear and true. Not only does he make me see the things he sees, he makes me feel the things he feels. There’s a lot more going on than just the trial and Jeremy tells you all about it.

Another interesting angle is the perspective of his girlfriend, Elmarie, who is an out right racist bigot. Through her character, we see the blatant hatred and racism that is rife during this era. She also helps to paint a clear picture of the inner struggle that consumes him. The drama that ensues from their relationship is one of the reasons you want to keep turning the pages to find out what happens in ‘The Enemy Within’.
The Enemy Within is filled with interesting characters like Jeremy’s mother, Elmarie’s mother, Marie Coetzee, the crazed attorney in his building and Jeremy makes them seem just as real as the people in your own home town. Here’s how Jeremy describes Elmarie’s mother,

“She wore a yellow tracksuit and white running shoes although her stocky figure had not known much exercise. Her weather beaten face, pounded by years of smoking and drinking, betrayed traces of the beauty she had bequeathed to her daughter.....She came in with a cigarette dangling from her mouth.......”

The larger theme of the story is racial intolerance but Jeremy never tries to make it a lesson, it is simply part of the world he describes. That’s why ‘The Enemy Within’ rings true and why it all seems so real.
The trial of the accused Themba Tshabalala takes place during the time of apartheid and segregation. However, Mandela is released from prison at this point and you wonder, Will things change? 
What will happen to Jeremy, Themba, Elaine and all the people who live and breathe inside the pages of ‘The Enemy Within’...

Published in 1995 Heinemann African Writers Series

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