In the Shadow of the Dragon's Back (Paperback)

A Young American Girl in South Africa During the Early Years of Apartheid

By Rachel Odhner Longstaff, Pehr Hemming Odhner (Photographer), Polytekton (Designed by)

Culicidae Press, 9781683150114, 224pp.

Publication Date: July 31, 2017



The book is the story of a young American girl living in South Africa during the early years of apartheid (1948-1960). One of six children of a Swedenborgian minister who was sent to South Africa to establish a theological school for Africans, the author reaches back into this unique time and place in an effort to rediscover the culture that influenced her own adult attitudes. Rather than following a strictly chronological format, the story is laid out in a series of verbal snapshots, supported by photographs. Family life, experienced through the eyes of a child living in a complex environment, contrasts with the lives of those who were impacted by the institutionalized racism of apartheid. Examples of the Acts of apartheid at the end of each chapter include news articles, interviews, and commentary. Deep childhood fears of some unnamed threat are represented by home invasions, wildfires, and the cry of a hyena in the mountains. The mountains are dangerous, they present a great barrier, but they can be conquered. After returning permanently to America as a teenager-through a confusing and sometimes painful process of discussion and observation-the author uncovers those artifacts of the past that inform her place in the world today. Review of "In the Shadow of the Dragon's Back" Apartheid was the "Dragon's Shadow," a dragon dedicated to devouring the people in its path to establish and maintain its power. No matter how carefully parents tried to shield their children from the shadowy tentacles, they could not completely hide the effects of the growing series of draconian laws underpinning the policies of white supremacy. Nor could they protect them from the results among the increasingly oppressed people around them, from the disparity between the white beneficiaries of the laws, and the black victims hidden in the dragon's shadow. ...] Every dragon needs a St. George to slay it, a voice for the voiceless. It is a great relief, in reading descriptions of the various Apartheid laws-the shadow itself-to see flickers of light of those who stand opposed to Apartheid: the light of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, the Black Sash, the English press, those who were banned for speaking out. ...] "In the Shadow of the Dragon's Back" deftly places these two realities side by side: the innocence of childhood and the creeping force of Apartheid, forces inimical to each other, existing in the same place at the same time. ...] Andrew M.T. Dibb, M.Div., D.Th. Dean, Bryn Athyn College of the New Church Theological School Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania.

About the Author

Rachel Longstaff grew up in South Africa, where she lived with her family in the city of Durban on the east coast of KwaZulu Natal. She has a degree in English from Northwestern University and an MS in Library and Information Science from Drexel University in Philadelphia. She has worked as an academic librarian for twenty years, first at the Swedenborg Library in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, and later at Saint Leo University in Florida. She and her husband, Alan, have four grown children. They have lived in The Hague, in Toronto, and in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Now retired and living in Florida, Rachel enjoys reading, writing, cycling, and gardening.