by Nadine Gordimer ‧ RELEASE DATE: April 27, 1987
Another of Gordimer's fine, incisive novels that wraps moral and political struggle in elegantly spun incident and luminous prose. Here, 30 tumultuous African years whirl around the life of a young white woman who's an (arguably) innocent foil for a continent's torments and desires. It's the late 1950's and adolescent Hillela, freshly expelled from boarding school, is taken to the Johannesburg home of her liberal Aunt Pauline. The self-possessed Hillela doesn't go in for the spoon-fed social activism her aunt prescribes, but the family puts up with her till she's caught in bed with her cousin Sasha; after this, no one protests when she takes off. She turns up at an ANC exile community in East Africa, where she careens from man to man, a girlfriend without a cause. She has an apolitical ripeness that inspires one promoter after another to take her up; when a brighter star presents himself, she moves on. Then she meets Whaila Kgomani, from whom she learns the politics of liberation. Together, they have a child, whom they name for Mandela's wife; Hillela is delighted the child is black. When Whaila's assassinated, Hillela travels for the cause--to Eastern Europe, New York, and eventually back to Africa where, with characteristic sureness, she takes up with a black nationalist general who's quick to conquer back his nation. Hillela is a fascinating, if opaque, character: she has a sensuality and a sense of comfort that is otherwise unique to the novel's black characters, but, as Whaila realizes, she lacks a center: ""any identification with her own people."" As always, Gordimer distills political events into personal pain, and the pain depicted here--symbolized by a redundant bullet in a refrigerator door--resonates. Although less powerful, less dense than July's People (1981), the book looks both out of South Africa and into an assortment of private hells. It's a raw, telling vista that Gordimer rakes with her piercing eye.
Pub Date: April 27, 1987
Page Count: -
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1987
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