Ruth First was a journalist and academic and, along with her husband Joe Slovo, strongly active in the anti-apartheid movement. She escaped South Africa in 1964. Her interests in politics and the struggle against apartheid are reflected in both novels, 117 Days and The Barrel of a Gun.
In 1982, she was working at a university in Mozambique. She opened a letter bomb addressed to her by the South African security police which is where First was assassinated.