The editors introduce this anthology as a personal, limited, sketchy gathering: ""a mere sample of the variety and quality...


A LAND APART: A South African Reader

The editors introduce this anthology as a personal, limited, sketchy gathering: ""a mere sample of the variety and quality of South African writing in English and Afrikaans of the past ten years or so"" (as of 1985). And their modesty is well-placed--since the work offered here is less impressive than one might expect, with striking omissions: those writers not represented include not only Coetzee and Brink themselves, but also Alan Paton, Athol Fugard, and Breyten Breytenbach. Nadine Gordimer, though ill-represented by a lesser story (""A Lion on the Freeway"" from A Soldier's Embrace) and a brief Burger's Daughter cutting, is one of the few standouts in Part One, devoted to English-language writers. Another is Sheila Roberts, who vividly captures the voices of racist whites (hotel workers involved in a rape case) in a telling excerpt from The Weekenders. There's a strong socio-historical interest, too, in a memoir of the '76 uprisings by Maria Tholo, a black middle-class woman who gives a tupperware party amid the violence and doesn't look forward to black rule. But the remaining prose--a small handful of stories--tends to be too obvious or too fragmentary for sharp impact, despite grimly powerful subject matter: brutal sexism in a tribal village; black experience in the mines, on a chain gang, in prison. And the poetry also suffers from heavy-handedness. (Chrisopher Hope, author of acclaimed novels and stories, appears only as the author of ""The Flight of the White South Africans"": "". . .our demise/ Is near, and we'll be gutted where we fall."") The selection of Afrikaans writing in Part Two is a startling--and perhaps slightly misleading--contrast: the stories here (no poetry) are only occasionally directly political, with emphasis rather on psycho-socio-sexual portraiture. Nuances in unraveling love affairs feature prominently in pieces by Ina Rousseau, Koos Prinsloo, and Jeanette Ferreira; Dalene Matthee (Circles in the Forest) offers a shrill sketch of one woman's anti-sexiest vengeance; T.T. Cloete spins out an anecdote in the ironic-horror mode; Hennie Aucamp provides several different angles on a practical joke--involving transvestitism and repressed sexuality--that turns sour. And the treatment of apartheid, even when didactic, is usually muted, often sentimental: Elsa Joubert's ""Back Yard""--about a white matron's attachment to black household servants--is Gordimer-like, but with less spine; George Weideman's ""The Afterthought"" brings a cloying, almost O. Henry-ish sensibility to a tale of interracial pregnancy. Only one piece--Etienne van Heerden's satire of military life, ""My Cuban""--simmers with anger, somewhat effectively. In sum: an uneven anthology, neither rich in literary quality nor commanding in its evocations of South Africa's ongoing crisis, but welcome nonetheless for its curious sidelights and unfamiliar voices.

Pub Date: June 1, 1987


Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1987