A Mouthful of Glass

(Een Mond Vol Glas)

Henk Van Woerden

Winner of the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award & the Frans Kellendonk Prize 2003

A Mouthful of Glass

In 1966 Demitrios Tsafendas killed the South African premier Hendrik Verwoerd and while Verwoerd went down in history as the architect of apartheid, his murderer stayed in the shadows, until today. In this powerful book Henk Van Woerden reconstructs the life of Tsafendas and gives a personal, intimate and insider account of the South African trauma, then and now.

Demitrios Tsafendas was born half-Greek, half-African, in colonial Mozambique, a world defined by racial prejudice. Van Woerden describes the man’s flight from country to country and his failure to fit anywhere. He was Christian, communist, Coloured, black, white. Rejection and disintegration went together; by the end he was taking orders from creatures dwelling in his body. He longed to belong. Was this his madness? Van Woerden unravels the assassin’s strange, affecting history – the sad and desperate life of a man who went everywhere and belonged nowhere.

This is a masterpiece that completely transcends any obstacles of subject matter.

A fine piece of narrative writing, pared down to essentials, balancing fact and imaginative recreation with great care and integrity. The prose is beautiful and the story is one that never has been told before culminating in an act that changed history. The stabbing of Hendrik Verwoerd was one of the most important and dramatic political assassinations in modern history.

‘Only van Woerden would succeed in redefining the country’s history in this way. He has managed to extricate Tsafendas from obscurity, out of prevailing, shameful silence; so that we may be acquainted with the man in all his particular humanity.’ Breyten Breytenbach

‘A thoroughly successful blend of biography and fiction, suggesting in intriguing ways how a new history of South Africa can be written.’ J. M. Coetzee

‘It is a picture both astute and sickening, both moving and grotesque, as the freedom of the two main players comes to be defined more in terms of the only choice they have left – their different kinds of madness.’ Andre Brink

‘This book is Tsafendas’ biography, but it is also a work of exceptional imagination.’ Justin Cartwright

A Mouthful of Glass, Tikoes & Moenie Kyk Nie form a trilogy About South Africa.


  • Podium NL (original publisher)
  • Granta (WEL)
  • Metropolitan USA
  • Queillerie South Africa
  • Gyldendal Norsk Norway
  • Berlin Verlag & Lettre International Germany (extract)
  • Tiderne Skifter Denmark
  • Actes Sud France
  • Grijalbo Mondadori Spain
  • Temas e Debates Portugal
  • Radio BBC World Service
  • Ancora del Mediterraneo Italy
  • Kedros Greece

Adapted as a play & directed by Sir Anthony Sher entitled ‘I.D’ at the Almeida in London.

Material: finished copies