South African journalist Hilary Prendini Toffoli speaks to Josephine Brouard about her memoir, Scatterling.
What inspired you to launch yourself on this revealing personal journey?
The memoir began as an impulse. Two years later the threads of my life have been woven into a tapestry that explains me to myself, a useful thing as I forge life’s next chapter. The book also recounts a pivotal moment in South African history thatdeserves to be remembered.
What did you discover along the way?
Thanks to this memoir, I am making peace with myself. I know that I can be impulsive, impatient and greedy, for example. I also know that I am thoughtful, kind and full of love. I smile in recognition now when negative inclinations rear their head – and I make better choices.
How do you rationalise the exposure of your mother’s infidelity in the book?
I grappled with this dilemma for months. In the end, there was a bigger picture for me. I wanted to show the depth and passion of our relationship. Despite our individual flaws, we adored each other until the day – Vale, Maman –my mother died.
Why did you leave South Africa? Really?
I left South Africa to pursue new adventures and once I left, I realised I could never go back. Each time I subsequently visited home, I felt I had made the right decision for me. The race issues in South Africa exhaust and depress me: I am happy to live in a country that doesn’t bear that weight.
Looking back over your life lived in two countries, what are you most proud of having achieved?
As a young woman I did a lot of dumb-ass things, but I am proud of my newspaper reporting days. However, the most courageous thing I did was to catapult myself out of my comfortable life in South Africa to face a new life, alone, in Australia. No one can take that achievement away from me.
If life is a sequence of decisions that impact the rest of your life, are there any decisions you wish you had made differently?
The answer to that is a categorical “no”. For example, I am relieved that I terminated my pregnancy at 16. My life would have been different – happy, quite possibly – but I would not have had the life I have now, which I love! I look back on my life and it’s been a roller coaster of good and bad times, but I am in bliss by the way it’s turned out.
What three life lessons have you learned the hard way?
Firstly, I’ve had to quieten my mother’s critical voice. Her voice had been in my head for far too long. Today I forgive myself if I do something dumb and don’t whip myself mercilessly and unnecessarily. This is a relief. Secondly, I take a step back every time an impulse grabs me by the throat and consider it much harder and longer before I take action. The introspection and reflection is vital for me. Finally, I am embracing the notion – foreign to me for most of my life – that some things don’t need to be said. I am learning to keep my own counsel and keeping my opinions to myself.There’s a lot of spiritual work ahead of me still. One thing’s sure, however: I won’t stop learning!!!