Mapping My Way Home

What a saga, both personal and political. Stephanie Urdang has lived the contradictions—the devastations and exaltations, the hard lessons—of southern African history since the 1960’s. From exile, she worked tirelessly to help defeat apartheid. From Africa, she has reported some extremely difficult stories, including life under aerial bombing by Portuguese colonial forces, and the subjection of women by progressive movements and governments. Her strength and decency and narrative gifts shine throughout this powerful memoir.

—William Finnegan, The New Yorker staff writer; Pulitzer Prize winner, Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life

Stephanie Urdang not only had a ringside seat but was often in the ring for three of the great revolutionary upheavals of our time: the women’s movement, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the fight against colonialism elsewhere on the continent. She is wise enough to know that none of these struggles are yet fully finished, and her story of a life deeply engaged in them is moving and absorbing.

Adam Hochschild, journalist; author, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa

I couldn’t put down Stephanie Urdang’s brilliant memoir of her life as a South African immigrant and her work as a conscientious observer/witness to some of Africa’s most searing revolutionary movements to free countries from oppression. I loved this instructive, inspirational, energizing page-turner, this self-portrait of a woman committed to justice that will impel readers to empathic acts of their own.

Louise DeSalvo, nonfiction writer; author, Gay Talese Award-winning memoir, Vertigo; more recently, Chasing Ghosts: A Memoir of a Father, Gone to War

I love Stephanie Urdang’s writing. She brought me right in from the first chapter. She makes nonfiction feel like the kind of fictional novel I don’t want to put down.

Ellen Friedland, documentary filmmaker, Delicious Peace

In Mapping My Way Home, Stephanie Urdang weaves together the threads of her amazing life of political activism and the struggles for self-determination in Africa with extraordinary eloquence, grace and disarming honesty. From her direct engagement in the struggle against apartheid in her native South Africa, to covering the liberation war against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea Bissau and witnessing firsthand the efforts to build a new nation in Mozambique, Urdang offers a unique and very insightful perspective on these critical processes in the continent’s history.

Alcinda Honwana, anthropologist; author, In the Time of Youth: Work, Social Change and Politics in Africa

Urdang’s memoir maps out her quest for the meaning of home, as she grapples with the power of nostalgia, and for the lived reality of revolution with empathy, courage, and a keen eye for historical and geographic detail. This is a personal narrative, beautifully told, of a journey traveled by an indefatigable exile who, while yearning for home, continues to question where, as a citizen of both South Africa and the United States, she belongs. “My South Africa!” she writes, on her return in 1991, after the release of Nelson Mandela, “How could I have imagined for one instant that I could return to its beauty, and not its pain?”

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— Monthly Review,  An Independent Socialist Magazine

This is a heartfelt memoir of a dedicated activist and feminist, whose passion for place, for people, and especially for peace, should inspire us all.

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-- Independent Publisher, January 2018

Candidly informative, descriptive, and an inherently fascinating read from cover to cover, "Mapping My Way Home: Activism, Nostalgia, and the Downfall of Apartheid South Africa" is an extraordinary story of an extraordinary woman who lived in extraordinary times. 

--Midwest Book Review, Helen's Bookshelf

Urdang's ... personal and journalistic memoir based on a lifetime of engagement with African liberation, provide new insights even for those who were participants in or closely followed the events they describe. 

 AfricaFocus Bulletin, October 30, 2017

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Urdang learned to hate the apartheid regime from her socialist parents. At the age of twenty-three, no longer able to tolerate its grotesque iniquities, she chose self-exile and emigrated to the United States. From the perspective of an anti-apartheid activist, a feminist and journalist, she tracked and wrote about the slow, inexorable demise of apartheid, as well as the victory over Portuguese colonialism in Africa. She trekked through the liberated zones of Guinea-Bissau; returned repeatedly to newly independent Mozambique where she witnessed the impact of the conflict fomented by South Africa against its neighbor; and participated in the vibrant divestment movement in the United States. 

-- Entropy Mag,  Monthly Review  

And Still They Dance

Much of the power and importance of And Still They Dance derives from Urdang’s refusal to puree the complexities of Mozambique into a smooth soup. Rather she allows the reader to feel the conflicts and contradiction in the stories women tell of their own lives… Urdang’s moving yet restrained narrative recounts dizzying acts of courage…a path-making book.

—Anne McClintock, A. Barton Hepburn Professor in the Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies and the Department of English, Princeton University

Fighting Two Colonialisms: Women in Guinea-Bissau

This book makes a major contribution to understanding the connection and interplay between socialism and feminism, and class and sex. In Fighting Two Colonialisms, Urdang focuses on women struggling to transform their society, actively participating in the building of a socialist society. Urdang’s book presents the actual experiences of African women in a non-theoretical way. The central lesson we can all learn from the people of Guinea- Bissau is that women's issues cannot be relegated to the periphery of a socialist movement. It is not enough to say that socialist revolution sets the basis for women’s liberation, but equally that feminism (whether called that or not) is basic to true socialist transformation.

….  Urdang provides a good balance between general back- ground information, her experiences and observations, and Guineans own  stories and perceptions. Although clearly excited by the advances made,  she is not blind to the continuing limitations on women. … A bonus in this book is the collection of photographs showing people at work transforming  their country.

—Kathleen Sheldon, University of California, Los Angeles Ufahamu, Journal of African Studies, 1980