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An Excerpt From 'Chase Your Shadow'

This excerpt appears in "Chase Your Shadow: The Trials of Oscar Pistorius." The author also joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game. See our interview and book review.

From CHASE YOUR SHADOW by John Carlin. Copyright © 2015 by John Carlin. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.


There was no question of Pistorius going back to live alone at the home where he had shot Reeva. When his uncle Arnold invited him to stay at his place, where his younger sister had been living for the last ten years, he did not think of turning down the offer.

There he suffered, but in some style. Arnold Pistorius lived in a mansion perched on the hills of Waterkloof Ridge, where the rich people of Pretoria and the foreign ambassadors lived. His home stood out in the stately neighborhood. While other residences were built in a gentle Mediterranean style, with pastel walls and terracotta-tiled roofs, his was a forbiddingly sturdy, red-brick pile, with the air of a military compound. A waterless moat and a sentry box manned round the clock by security guards defended the front of the property. A sign by the entrance gate announced the name of the house, ‘Bateleur’ – after a breed of African eagle that preys on snakes.

Arnold Pistorius liked to say that he lived in ‘an African house’. Originally a church minister’s home, he and his wife Lois had spent a decade supervising its reconstruction, carefully selecting the hardiest stone, brick and wood the continent could yield and hiring the finest local craftsmen to assemble it all. On the second floor were the bedrooms, reached by a manorial wooden staircase; downstairs, a large entrance hall, lounge, dining room, study and kitchen. Sculptures large and small of giraffes, elephants, leopards and baboons adorned each room; paintings on the walls depicted scenes from the African bush. High windows on the ground floor at the back of the house looked down onto a large swimming pool in the shape of a cross, and beyond that, across a valley, on a hill three miles away, could be seen South Africa’s most imposing architectural landmark, the Union Buildings, seat of state power since 1910.

Arnold’s seat of power inside the house was the room in which he conducted his business meetings – a dark study, with brown leather chairs, where he kept a collection of antique guns and, rearing from a wall, a big-game trophy, the head of a black buffalo. For Arnold, it served as a statement of his proud Africanness, of his authority as the ruler of a traditional Afrikaner household, and as a symbol of his material success. In his early sixties, he was a lean, tall, white-bearded man, ramrod straight, who never tired of saying that to be an Afrikaner gave you as much claim to be an African as if you were a Zulu, Xhosa or any other of the darker-skinned peoples who called the southern tip of the continent home. His family had inhabited Africa, he would say, since long before the forebears of most American families had arrived in the United States.

To his nephew Arnold gave the run of his big home, which included access to an indoor cinema and a spacious gym equipped with all the latest apparatus, where he worked out with frantic enthusiasm. But where he lived now, since what they referred to in the family as ‘the incident’, was not in the main house but in a large apartment – or ‘cottage’, as Arnold called it – located at the bottom of a long, steep flight of steps beyond the swimming pool, next to a pond with three resident swans – unfriendly beasts, Arnold would warn visitors, liable to bite anyone who came too close. The cottage, resembling a hotel suite of the type his nephew used to frequent on his triumphant world travels, consisted of a bedroom, a large living room and a bathroom. Within the limits of his uncle’s property Pistorius enjoyed five-star luxury and, with the cinema, the pool, the gym and a permanent staff of servants on the premises, five-star amenities. But he was a recluse now, a virtual prisoner. The athletics track at the high performance sports center in Pretoria where he used to train was out of bounds. Before, he had sought public attention; now, he shunned it. Before, the fans mobbed him; too many now would turn their backs on him. But he did need company, constant attention, as if he were a small child again.

Occasionally the sense of imprisonment would overwhelm him and he would risk a sortie into the outside world. He would drive to his grandmother’s, or to lunch at an Italian restaurant with his sister Aimée or his cousin Maria in a small shopping center nearby, a simple place with Formica table tops and plastic chairs, where the staff remained welcoming, ready to shake his hand and to go along with the charade that nothing was amiss. Urged on by his cousins’ husbands, muscular men who would sweat alongside him at his uncle’s gym, he would sometimes attempt some pretence of normality by eating out at a fashionable place called Koi, his favorite Japanese restaurant in Pretoria. A couple of times during the year’s wait for the trial he was unable to resist the temptation to flee his cage and attend a party or visit a bar with the fast set he used to enjoy mingling with in Johannesburg. Each time, however, he regretted it because the news would inevitably reach the media, who would seize on these excursions to portray him as a man cold-bloodedly at peace with the crime he had committed. More often he would go for long drives in the countryside in a white Audi he owned. Driving had always been more than a practical matter. It was a release for his nervous energy. He drove very fast, composed at the wheel, but he never went on these drives alone now; always he had a family member by his side. Sometimes he would pluck up the courage to stop and have a drink or a meal, if the place seemed sufficiently remote and discreet. It was a risk, though. There were times when strangers, spotting him, had verbally abused him.

Whatever Pistorius did, in or out of the house, he was rarely left alone. And while his family tried to keep smiling, and sometimes he smiled back, his gloom was contagious, his presence ghostly, unable to forget for long the misery and disgrace he had brought on the people he loved. They could no more ignore his shame now than they could fail to enjoy his triumphs in the past. He was as needy as a sad little child. They called him not Oscar but ‘Ozzie’, as his mother had done. Sometimes he would sit on a brown leather chair in the study with the head of the big buffalo, and rest his own head on Aimée’s chest, lying there quietly, not saying a word, as they stroked his hair. He could not bear to be on his own; nor did those who loved him want him to be alone. God and family – that was the Pistorius family motto.

From CHASE YOUR SHADOW by John Carlin. Copyright © 2015 by John Carlin. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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