NOTEBOOKS: 1960-1977 by Athol Fugard

NOTEBOOKS: 1960-1977

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Selections from the writer-diaries of the acclaimed South African playwright--about equally divided between notes for the plays themselves and wrestlings with the continuing agony of South Africa's injustice. In the early-1960s entries, 30-ish Fugard (part Irish/Polish, part Afrikaner) devotes much of his passion to family matters: his father's spiritual and physical decline; his bossy mother's idiosyncratic speech (""Frits for fridge""); the birth and magical growing-years of his daughter. There are also a few disarming bits of youthful self-analysis--trying to ""care less"" about appearances, what other people think. But, as the years pass, bolstered in his pessimism by readings in Beckett and Camus, Fugard's tone becomes more relentlessly brooding and tortured--and not without reason. Vignettes of everyday discrimination and cruelty in his hometown (Port Elizabeth) are bitterly recorded. Troubling, fundamental questions press in: ""Can I any more work in a theatre which excludes 'Non-Whites' . . . Can art change a man or a woman? . . . What would one do in the event of a call to arms to all white men in this country to protect wives, families and homes because the Africans had risen in united and bloody revolt?"" Meanwhile, the playwright slaves away at The Blood Knot, Hello and Goodbye (a particularly thorny gestation period), Boesman and Lena, working with his multiracial theater company. The question of leaving South Africa keeps surfacing--but ""To leave would mean that the hating would win. . . South Africa needs to be loved now, when it is at its ugliest. . . By staying I might be able to do this."" And then, shockingly, an actor from the company is arrested on political charges, sent to notorious Robben Island--giving rise to The Coat, a fierce play that the company later performs before a white Theatre Appreciation Group. (""They sat and watched us with the horror and fascination that freezes you a few feet away from a puff-adder.') The material here is fragmentary, especially in the later years--annotated only with annoying end-notes, offering only glimmers of what a full-scale Fugard memoir might provide. And the extensive play-in-progress documentation (including fascinating foreshadowings of Master Harold and A Lesson From Aloes) won't mean much to those unfamiliar with the Fugard canon. Nonetheless: a dark, painful cross-section of an embattled career, with a few remarkable glimpses into how an artist turns daily anguish and observation into drama.

Pub Date: April 3rd, 1984
ISBN: 1559360127
Publisher: Knopf