Wednesday 22 November 2017

Review: Telling times writing & Living by Nadine Gordimer

(Bloomsbury, £35)

The range of Nadine Gordimer's non-fiction output is staggering. This tome, which covers 50 years of her writings, is close on 800 pages of essays, letters observations and speeches, all driving home time and time again the message that, in her native South Africa, the pseudo-political system of apartheid, or separate development, as the ruling Afrikaaners preferred to term it, was utterly wrong.

To judge from her writings she also had continuing conflict in how she and others of her intellectual and political ilk defined themselves as South Africans -- a collective of 'minority whites' within the 'minority white rulers' of this troubled country.

Her writings are wonderful, in their unrelenting argument against apartheid, and in the use and brevity of language. She never ceases to make her point, unapologetically and unreservedly.

Her writings -- three of her novels were banned in South Africa -- reflect the spirit of the writer as moral activist, political visionary and, not least, literary icon.

Telling Times is not alone her story of her continuous fight for justice and true reconciliation but also the story of South Africa from the embryonic days of colonial rule to the long brutal fight to overthrow the apartheid regime -- and in latter years her frontline battle in confronting the dangers of Aids, globalisation and ethnic violence.

Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, hers was not the only voice crying out with rage and indignation in a wilderness devoid of humanity or equality.

One thinks also of Athol Fugard, Alan Paton or JM Coetzee. But often (perhaps because she is a woman?) her voice got lost in translation 'overseas' where western governments gave lip-service against apartheid but in terms of commerce, and diplomacy continued to prop up the ruling National Party of white privilege

This is a marvellous collection of articulately argued, heart-felt political writings, which one can dip in and out of at one's pace and is a must for any serious student of politics.

Gordimer, now approaching 80, has had so much to say in the past 50 years but I leave you with what I think best illuminates the process behind her political thinking. It is from her short essay entitled Apartheid, written in 1959:

"My own friends among Africans are people I happen to like, my kind of people, whose friendship I am not prepared to forgo because of some racial theory I find meaningless and absurd.

"Like that of many others, my opposition to apartheid is compounded not only out of a sense of justice but also out of a personal, selfish and extreme distaste for having the choice of my friends dictated to me and the range of human intercourse proscribed for me.''

Irish Independent

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