Glen Retief is an Associate Professor of nonfiction writing at Susquehanna University. His The Jack Bank: A Memoir of a South African Childhood won a Lambda Literary Award.
THE JACK BANK | GLEN RETIEF
* Winner of a Lambda Literary Award and an Africa Book Club feature in 2012
An extraordinary, literary memoir of a gay white South African, coming of age—and realizing he’s attracted to black men—at the end of apartheid, during the 1980s and early 90s.
Glen Retief’s childhood was at once recognizably ordinary—camping with his brother and sister, playing soldiers with the kid next door—and brutally unusual. Raised in the middle of a game preserve where his father worked, Retief experienced his warm nuclear family as a preserve of its own, protection against chaotic forces working just outside its borders: a childhood contact who taught Retief how to use police lingo on walkie-talkies was also the leader of a death squad, killed human rights activists, and dumped their bodies in crocodile-infested rivers.
But it was only at twelve, when Retief was sent to boarding school, that he was truly exposed to human cruelty and frailty. When the seventeen-year-old prefects who ruled the dormitories were caught torturing the younger boys, they didn’t stop the hazing. Instead, they invented “the jack bank”, where underclassman could save beatings safely dispensed when nobody was looking, earn interest on their deposits, and draw on them later to atone for their supposed infractions. Retief writes movingly of the complicated stew of emotions and politics that informed this punitive all-male world, and of how he navigated its shoals, sometimes identifying with his torturers himself even as he began to realize that his adult life and sexuality would be very different than theirs. The book ends with the exhilarating freedom of democracy and self-acceptance.
Read an excerpt of The Jack Bank.